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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Invictus Straight-Forwardus

Typically when I think of Clint Eastwood, I think of gun-fights, coarse language, and an eerily stoic performances, so you can imagine how surprised I was when I took in Invictus. Not that I expected violent action or dramatic stand-offs (after all, this is a post-apartheid movie, not pre), but I never expected it to be so uplifting. I guess it helps when Clint isn't in a frame of the film (though his son sure Kyle was, much to my chagrin), and we know the subject matter is a happy one. But it is clear now, after viewing several of Eastwood's films in the past five years that the man knows how to tell a fantastic and straight forward story with little to no frills. What I'm learning however, is that that may be all he knows how to do anymore.

You don't go to Eastwood movies for metaphor. He doesn't do that, for the most part. He simply tells stories as they happened in an attempt to retell history with a twinge of cinematic magic. And for that, he deserves a thunderous round of applause, as I seen few movie-makers pursuing genuine truth these days. His most recent non-acting directorial efforts (Changeling, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima, and Invictus) encapsulate that brilliantly, as I found each of them entertaining but not life-changing*. So I somewhat expected Invictus to follow the same pattern.

And for the most part it did: the performances were realistic and inspiring, the story was both heartfelt and factual, and I left with a tremendous feeling of joy for the world. And with that in mind, the movie works beautifully as a grand nod toward today's global landscape. Now, the leader of the free world (us, or U.S.) has an African-American leader. All of the conventions and social-constructions of yesteryear are disappearing, and that is only echoed further through this retelling.

That is, save for good old Kyle Eastwood who made an attempt at ruining the movie by composing parts of the soundtrack. Now, call me crazy, but I like when Clint does the music. Sure, there's a touch of megalomania to his actions, but that's what you need to create brilliance: a single vision manifested by a single visionary. Instead, in a scene that should have been one of the most dramatic of the film**, Kyle Eastwood's music virtually cheapened the entire film in one fell swoop. You'll know it when you hear it. It sounds like James Blunt crapping out of his mouth onto an otherwise perfectly scored movie. The lyrical metaphor is paper-thin, and the song is just plain cheesy. And sometimes I like cheese. Hell, I saw 2012 after all. And if I can find a good Gouda, I'm set. But not in this movie. Not with a subject so dramatic that it takes the efforts of an entire crew to make the film seem genuine at all. Of course, I can't fault the guy for giving his son a chance. I would too if I was in that situation.

So yeah, Invictus is good. Maybe not the best picture of the year (though it's sure to crack the top 10 (10 movies for best picture, really, academy? Come on!)), but it's on point with anything Eastwood has done in the past five years. Simple storytelling with genuine character development. The problem is, with a story that's already been told, he loses the audience guessing game that makes film such a powerful medium to begin with. Here's to hoping his next project will be entirely fictional so we can see the majesty that is Clint Eastwood film-making again.

*I've yet to see Changeling, but I have little desire to. Something about Angelina Jolie crying about kids...seems too on the nose about me. What's next, Bono doing a movie about the IRA? Actually, that's not a half bad pitch.

**Mandela takes a helicopter to the rugby practice. You can't miss it. It feels like a WB show.

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