I'm a little tardy with these two reviews - I'll have to refund half of your subscription price. With The Blind Side and Invictus, we have two of the best sports movies in recent memory and they couldn't be more different.
The Blind Side is the more-or-less true story about an NFL player's down-and-out beginnings and his luck to be taken in by a wealthy football-loving family. What I liked most is that it wasn't about the game but about how the connection between the teenage boy and the materfamilias formed.
This is Sandra Bullock's third movie of the year and easily her best. She plays a southern society wife to a T and it would have been worth the price of admission just to see her performance. Fortunately, the other main characters was also perfectly cast, so we are treated to a top-notch film.
Do I have to say how wonderful Sandra Bullock looks? She has the skin of a porcelain doll, the body of a college girl and a smile that turns this middle-aged cynic into a gushing fanboy. Need I say more?
Finally, be it known that The Blind Side becomes an almost-perfect movie because it doesn't have a come-from-behind win at the end. No clock counting down, no Hail Mary catches, no game-winner interceptions. In not using the cliché of a last-second win, The Blind Side puts itself in a rare place where the sport is less important that the characters we've grown to appreciate over the past two hours.
Invictus is poem by Robert Frost or somebody and appears to be somewhat inspiring. That's all you need to know about the title. Rugby is a game somewhere between futbol with the use of hands and football without helmets or pads. Rugby makes no sense to me and that's all you need to know about the game.
Invictus takes place in South Africa just after the end of apartheid and (no spoiler) how Nelson Mandela used the national rugby team to help unite South Africans. Matt Damon plays the relatively unknown captain of the SA rugby team while Morgan Freeman plays the iconic Nelson Mandela. Both do an outstanding job.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, Invictus displays the typical Eastwood touch - a great story, told patiently and without cheap gimmicks. That we don't understand rugby or SA politics doesn't matter. I don't think the politics is as simple as black and white or that Mandela was the benevolent grandfather-type. It's a great story nonetheless, fact or fiction.
Unlike The Blind Side, there is a big game at the end and a countdown clock, but it's secondary to the struggle to get to the big game. In fact, I thought the big game was actually just a semi-final match. Eastwood didn't over-explain rugby nor give the World Cup too much due. It was just another game for the players but a healing ritual for a country that had never been united. Invictus is a great sports movie in particular and a great movie in general.
Interestingly, at the beginning of 2009, would you have believed that not only would we see two mainstream movies set in South Africa (Invictus and District 9) but that both would be pretty darn good?
postscript January 2, 2010
I should also have mentioned that for both of these movies, when the lights came up at the end, nobody moved. It's not uncommon for people to stay in their seats long enough to read the cast credits but not the entire audience. Most of your average crowd jumps up as soon as the movie ends and shuffles towards the door. For both of these movies, I sensed that all the other patrons, like me, wanted to savor, reflect or have some other emotional experience but NOT leave. I consider the lingering behavior to be another sign of a well-received movie.