For a film that isn't particularly action packed till the final third, this one caught and held my attention from the first.
I have read the book 'Playing the Enemy' on which it is based and wasn't too sure what to expect. You see, the book is first and foremost a history book, and is even categorised as such by it's publishers, but includes the 1995 Rugby World Cup final as its conclusion. The book was therefore more a source document than something to be adapted for the screen thus reducing the scope for common criticism 'he strayed too far from the book'.
Morgan Freman's portrayal of Mandela is stunning and totally believable, but then you would expect no less from such a man. However, fans of Matt Damon may come away disappointed as there isn't the whiff of Jason Bourne in the Springbok's locker room. That said, for a small guy he did a good job of portraying Francois Pienaar, captain of the cup winning Springboks.
In truth the film could be called "Reconciliation" because that's what it's all about. Reconciling the two sides of a divided nation via the couduit of Rugby, the game of the white Africaans. The film started with a nations divided, the rugby playing white elite on one side of the road and the footballing blacks kicking around on wasteland on the other, with a newly released Mandela riding through the middle. The end is the antethisis of the beginning, with former enemies united in celebration depicted via a diverse range of cameo scenes. A feel good moment if ever the was one.
It is the title of a William Ernest Henley poem which sustained Mandela through his long years in captivity, and enabled him to emerge whout a desire for revenge on his captors:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
This poem was written as a statement of defiance following the amputation of Henley's leg, another larger than life character who lived life to the full in spite of undeserved adversity.
As for the intimidating figure of Jonah Lomu, this was carried off with aplom by Zak Feaunati who pounded through the opposition like a man mountain.
For those that like their Rugby, or who have an interest in recent South African history this is a must see film. And for the rest of you, go and see it and fall under Mandela's spell, a man who was 'the master of his fate and captain of his soul'.