So. Variety's Todd McCarthy and Newsweek's David Ansen have gone ahead and ignored a studio-imposed embargo and reviewed Clint Eastwood's Invictus, which opens in less than two weeks. This breach of etiquette—perpetrated by old-media types, who were supposed to be good for such courtesies, yet!—of course has much of the film blogosphere in a huff, and Jeffrey Wells has gone and posted something like four different sort-of considerations of Invictus in the wake of said breach.
One of which is called "Leadership" and quotes the musings of some schmuck on The Huffington Post who has also said "feh" to the embargo and who "points out," as they say, some correspondences between the Nelson Mandela administration ins South Africa and that of...wait for it...Barack Obama in the United States. I will not linger long on this schmuck's magnificent two-handed grasp of both the spurious and the obvious. I only point this out to note that these musings move Wells to reproduce two bits of the Invictus script, by Anthony Peckham. One has a Mandela aide chiding him for "risking political capital," on account of rugby, yet. Mandela replies: "The day I am afraid to do that is the day I am no longer fit to lead." Another script swatch has Mandela declaring, "[I]n this instance the people are wrong. And it is my job as their elected reader to make them see that."
These little bites inspire a Wells commenter who dubs himself "Arturobandini2" to sputter: "Jesus, is that dialogue actually in the movie? That's a much worse indicator of quality than any review that's slipped out. Screenwriting 101 teaches you that subtext is NEVER EVER spelled out in the dialogue."
Well, first, as it happens, yes, that dialogue is actually in the movie, and it plays fine, thank you. Just one more reason why you should never review a picture according to its script. Second, fuck "Screenwriting 101." It's one reason why so very many movies are so very bad. Thirdly, it ain't subtext. It's text. One of the reasons I admire Invictus so much is that it's really not a "sports movie." Indeed, up until the very final match, the rugby stuff here is treated largely as an afterthought; there's no will-they-make-it? fakery or pumping up of suspense. Invictus is a movie about political leadership, about the semiotics of sport and its relation to patriotism/national identity, and about the very canny benign manipulations of several men who understand how one step to some kind of real national unity can be achieved via a sports spectacle. It is absolutely correct for the character of Mandela to be an almost meticulously self-conscious leader, given his unprecedentedness as the head of South Africa's government, and the fact that he had grown into a figure of near-mythical stature well before he took that position. So the considerations that Peckham has his Mandela character overtly articulating are entirely apt. We understand what Mandela has in mind, and part of the joy of the film is watching it come together. The subtext, which is not explicitly spelled out deals with exactly why Mandela chooses to embrace this rugby team that dresses itself in the colors of the apartheid flag. And that's dealt with quite beautifully and movingly by Eastwood and lead actors Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, both of whom are outstanding.
Okay, back to honoring that embargo. Although, as with last year's Gran Torino, part of me wants to save my further thoughts on this picture for after the opening, the better to hash it all out with you.