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Invictus Blu-ray & DVD Review

Invictus (2009) movie poster Invictus

Theatrical Release: December 11, 2009 / Running Time: 133 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Clint Eastwood / Writers: Anthony Peckham (screenplay); John Carlin (book "Playing the Enemy")

Cast: Morgan Freeman (Nelson Mandela), Matt Damon (Francois Pienaar), Tony Kgoroge (Jason Tshabalala), Julian Lewis Jones (Etienne Feyder), Adjoa Andoh (Brenda Mazibuko), Patrick Mofokeng (Linga Moonsamy), Matt Stern (Hendrick Booyens), Leleti Khumalo (Mary), Marguerite Wheatley (Nerine), Patrick Lyster (Mr. Pienaar), Penny Downie (Mrs. Pienaar)

Available on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, On Demand and for Download 5/18 - Buy Invictus from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • DVD • Download


and Kelvin Cedeno

At age 79, Clint Eastwood is one of the busiest film directors working today. Last decade, while in semi-retirement from acting, Eastwood directed nine films. What's been far more impressive than the quantity is the quality. It is as if while making 2003's Mystic River, Eastwood grew determined to etch a directing legacy as impressive as his acting one. Though his behind-the-camera debut came in 1971 and 1992's Unforgiven awarded him both Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, Eastwood has turned his filmmaking ambitions way up in recent years. Three of his latest features have competed for Best Picture and Best Director, with Million Dollar Baby (2004) also winning both.

A biopic about one of the most politically significant people alive today, the 2009 film Invictus seemed destined to add to Eastwood's 21st century accolades. In Clint's corner was the obvious choice to portray Nelson Mandela: Morgan Freeman, who had co-starred in both of the director's Best Picture winners. Playing across from him was A-lister Matt Damon, portraying South African rugby team captain Franηois Pienaar.

Though elected by the people and given a warm reception, South Africa's President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) proposes an unpopular idea in this scene depicting a sports committee appearance. Occasionally wearing a false nose, Matt Damon plays team-rallying South African rugby captain Franηois Pienaar.

Invictus opens on February 11, 1990, the day that Mandela was released after serving 27 years in South African prisons for his role in sabotage campaigns against the apartheid government. The film seamlessly jumps ahead four years to Mandela assuming office as the nation's first black President.
There are tensions and concerns over the former revolutionary's rise to power and the changes it will bring. We get a taste of these feelings spending time with the president's newly-integrated security detail.

Through Freeman's performance, the film gives us some sense of the leader: calm, optimistic, aware of opposition and danger but eager to make public appearances and quite willing to learn names. It is ultimately the game of rugby that seems to be of the utmost importance to "Madiba" and, as he sees it, his country during the critical turning point his term represents.

The predominantly white national rugby team, the Springboks, is generally unloved by the nation it represents. There is a movement by enthused black citizens to change the team's nickname and emblem, starting anew in the post-apartheid age. Mandela unpopularly opposes it, thinking it would further ostracize white fans already feeling threatened. The Springboks get a new coach and manager, but retain their captain Pienaar, who is excited to be called in for a one-on-one meeting with the president. Their teatime chat is short and casual, but Pienaar comes away feeling that Mandela is placing his hopes on the long-shot team qualifying for the 1995 Rugby World Cup that South Africa is hosting.

Some distrust stands between the white and black members of the President's newly-unsegregated security detail (led by Tony Kgoroge, in tan coat). On a team visit to a shuttered Robben Island prison, Pienaar (Matt Damon) is moved by imagining what life was like for the future president Mandela there.

And he is, although rugby doesn't strike this American critic as an activity with great metaphorical value. Concerning itself only with the first year of Mandela's presidency and nearly none of his policies or past, Invictus feels slight. It doesn't achieve a lot in its two hours, relying too much on sports spectatorship and stadium enthusiasm. The film is more into sports than politics, but it's less interested in the specifics of play than in its unifying power and the fervor it inspires.

We never get the clearest picture of Mandela and he fades in the final act's devotion to the big championship match in Johannesburg's Ellis Park Stadium. By then, Invictus plays out largely like any sports drama, only without a coach, player, or group dynamic in sharp focus. The team is meant to represent South Africa in every sense and its athletic success reflects nationalism.

While sure to underwhelm many, this is the type of film that is hard to dislike. It tells an interesting story than many people probably didn't know beforehand (myself included). It is nicely shot and well-acted, plus pleasing African songs (primarily from South African a capella group Overtone) give it a nice sound throughout.

Invictus didn't get the type of Academy Awards love bestowed upon Mystic and Million, but it also didn't get shut out like Eastwood's most popular film of late, Gran Torino. Two acting Oscar nominations were received, for lead actor Freeman and supporting actor Damon. The latter is a bit of a puzzler, not because Damon's performance is lacking, but because the role is. The equivalent acknowledgement was more logical from the Golden Globes, whose foreign press voters have historically been drawn to movie stars.

Ironically, it was a different South African film, the sci-fi action flick District 9, that dealt with apartheid more head-on, albeit allegorically. It earned the Best Picture nomination that Invictus long seemed a shoo-in for, while a different inspirational true-life Warner sports drama (The Blind Side) also got recognized in the field of ten. The lack of a stronger reaction from critics and industry appeared to factor into soft stateside attendance. But seemingly reflecting rugby's international appeal, foreign business was stronger, accounting for nearly 70% of the film's $122 million worldwide gross.

Now, Invictus makes its home video debut on the physical formats of DVD and Blu-ray. As has been the norm at Warner this year, the Blu-ray release temporarily includes a DVD holding the movie and a transferable digital copy.

Buy Invictus: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

BD: 2.40:1 Widescreen
BD: DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
DVD: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles (BD & DVD): English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: May 18, 2010
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available in Standalone DVD ($28.98 SRP)
and On Demand

VIDEO and AUDIO

Invictus comes to Blu-ray in its 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. As expected, the results here are excellent. Eastwood has been vocal about his preference for grain in his films, so it's a relief to see his work hasn't been given a waxy DNR appearance. Detail is consistently excellent, and the intentionally drab color scheme is accurately replicated.
This isn't the sort of vibrantly clean and glossy transfer that will sell televisions. Instead, it's a faithful, filmic representation of a somewhat gritty source.

The DTS-HD 5.1 MA track is likewise strong and accurate. This is a dialogue-heavy film, and that aspect is always nice and crisp. The sound field impressively expands during crowd sequences, enveloping the viewer. Other surrounds are almost exclusive to the rugby scenes, and these pack quite a wallop. The exaggerated nature of the effects intensifies the action and makes it more immediate. Music is mixed just right so that it's neither overbearing nor anonymous. It's a pleasing track over all.

The DVD's presentation is also of satisfying quality by its standards, which is pleasantly surprising considering the low bit rate that results from half the disc going to digital copies. A few shots are slightly lacking, but for the most part, the rich visuals are either solid or downright great. Huge screen or close computer viewing, however, reveals that many of the game scenes are riddled with compression artifacts. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is stronger, with crowd scenes striking me as particularly dynamic. You do have to put up with some player grunting, which is loudest in the slow-motion field action.

"Mandela Meets Morgan" brings leader and actor together briefly. Clint Eastwood reflects on some of the pre-"Invictus" films he's directed, giving us a glimpse of "The Eastwood Factor." Matt Damon checks if his rugby training shows in monitor playback.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The Invictus Blu-ray holds five bonus features. The three biggest of these extras are exclusive to Blu-ray, but on the combo pack, all are, since the DVD contains only the movie and a digital copy.

The Blu-ray exclusives begin with "Vision, Courage, and Honor", a comprehensive picture-in-picture track that features interviews with cast, crew, and some of the real people portrayed in the film. The focus here is mainly on the history, as various anecdotes are paired up with their interpretations. These interviews pop up a whopping 56 times throughout playback.
In a nice move, one has the option to skip to the next clip or return to the previous one with the remote's arrow keys. This is one of the rare instances where the feature isn't needed badly, though, since nary 30 seconds go by before the next clip pops up. It's a fascinating look at Invictus' setting and how events really unfolded.

The next BD-exclusive "Mandela Meets Morgan" (28:10) (HD) is misleadingly titled, since only its first few minutes depict the former president meeting his portrayer. The rest of the feature is a general making-of, satisfyingly covering topics such as casting and shooting on location. It's mostly free of EPK gloss, instead presenting interviews and behind-the-scenes footage matter-of-factly.

Final BD-exclusive "The Eastwood Factor" (22:23) (SD) excerpts the feature-length documentary of the same name which is found on an upcoming DVD of its own and also excerpted on Warner's recent mathematically unsound 35 Films, 35 Years Clint Eastwood box set. This portion focuses predominantly on Eastwood the director. He shares some thoughts on films like Unforgiven, Mystic River, and Million Dollar Baby. It's a little unfocused as it hops from subject to subject, but it still whets one's appetite for the full documentary with a fascinating look at Eastwood's thought process.

Found on the standalone DVD but only on the Blu-ray here are two short extras. The promotional "Matt Damon Plays Rugby" (6:49) (HD) has Damon's peers praise his humility and devotion to the role. Footage showing Damon spending time with the real Francois Pienaar keeps this from being bland.

Rather than just a 30-second promo for the soundtrack, "Invictus Music Trailer" (2:36) (HD) is actually the film's theatrical trailer with just the release date card replaced by a pitch for the CD. That makes it more of a valuable inclusion as trailers have become especially rare on non-catalog releases.

Available in iTunes and Windows Media formats, the digital copy can be redeemed through May 16, 2011. Since the standard DVD is playable in all players, that renders this platter much less wasteful and useless than most studios' digital copy-only platters. But it does restrict the amount of space that goes to the DVD's feature presentation, to a greater degree than you'd expect.

Also exclusive to Blu-ray on this combo pack are disc-loading promotional trailers, which advertise digital copies and Warner's Clint Eastwood: 35 Films, 35 Years set.

Aside from the lack of dubs and a special features page, the DVD's simple menus are probably identical to those on the standalone disc. As is the Warner standard, they're static screens, the main of which is scored. The similar Blu-ray menus' pop-up system expands upward with levels cascading to the right. Each extra is given a little box when selected, showing a screencap, description, and runtime.

Although I was under the impression that the presence of a slipcover was the easiest way to identify DVD-including Warner Blu-rays, our review copy of Invictus came unslipcovered, with a shrinkwrap sticker confirming its combo pack status. Inserts inside the blue keepcase explain BD-Live and digital copy access.

Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) shows his national pride with a Springboks jersey and enthusiastic applause.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Likable enough, Invictus provides a polished presentation, but is far less epic and substantial than you'd expect. Casting Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and then proceeding to tell about the South African rugby team's success, Clint Eastwood doesn't deliver the anticipated definitive biopic. Still, this narrow drama is engaging and only likely to disappoint those with high hopes and a low tolerance for contact sports.

While the film is a positive experience from a proven professional, I think a strong appreciation for Eastwood, the cast, Mandela, or rugby is needed for this to be one you'll return to regularly. If you meet those requirements, then opting for the Blu-ray combo pack or standalone DVD comes down to how important bonus features are to you and how soon you see yourself widely wired for BD. More than satisfied with standard DVD and apathetic towards digital copies, I'd be happy with the DVD, its meager extras, and spending the approximately $7 savings elsewhere. If you're already Blu-ray-ready and big on getting the best presentation possible, your mileage will definitely vary even if the DVD with digital copy is of no interest.

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Reviewed May 18, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 Warner Bros. Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, and 2010 Warner Home Video. Film screencaps from DVD.
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