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Invictus no match for the real thing

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Ben Dirs | 08:30 UK time, Monday, 1 February 2010

There are two fundamental problems with films based on real sporting events. First, you know what's going to happen. Second, the story is never going to be as dramatic in the retelling as it was first time round.

Which explains how Michael Mann's "Ali" managed to make the most charismatic sportsman who ever lived seem a little bit dull, and why "This Sporting Life", the largely fictional account of a rugby league player in the 1960s, remains the best film ever made about rugby (sorry, union fans...).

Invictus, Clint Eastwood's film about South Africa's triumph at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, is what you might call prosaic. No-frills, pretty realistic, for the most part truthful. And therein lies the problem.

Eastwood, hamstrung by having to provide a potted history of apartheid as well as a crash-course in rugby union for his American audience, didn't have space for cinematic flourishes. Not that Eastwood has ever been big on cinematic flourishes.

Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon takes on the role of Francois PienaarMorgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon takes on the role of Francois Pienaar

But there are times, especially as the film limps towards its denouement like a wounded Springbok, when you're crying out for some Oliver Stone-style visual grandstanding, a la "Any Given Sunday". But, and I had to keep reminding myself of this, unlike most of Eastwood's American audience, I knew what was going to happen.

The best sports films aren't really about sport at all. "Raging Bull", Martin Scorsese's 1980 masterpiece about the boxer Jake LaMotta, succeeded because the director, who didn't like boxing and didn't want to make the film in the first place, played fast and loose with the facts and the rules.

The studio thought they were getting another "Rocky". What they got was the sordid, painful tale of an almost entirely unsympathetic character - self-destructive, obsessive, violent, jealous and insecure - filmed in black and white and imbued with an operatic score.

The boxing scenes - stylised rather than naturalistic, as in "Invictus", and all the better for it - are riveting, yet ultimately incidental. Sugar Ray Robinson, who LaMotta fought six times, twice in the film, doesn't utter a word. Instead, it's Robert De Niro's tortured monologue, lifted straight from "On the Waterfront", that hogs the memory: "I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody - instead of a bum, which is what I am." Did it happen? Of course not, but then who really cares?

There are those who argue that "Raging Bull" isn't even the best film about boxing. "Fat City", directed by John Huston and starring Stacy Keach as yet another fighter who's hit the skids, gets many peoples' vote.

But whether it's "Raging Bull", "Fat City" or "Rocky", the point is this: When it comes to sports films, the grittier the better. And when it comes to sport, it doesn't get any grittier than the fight game.

There will never be a great film about Premier League football or Premier League footballers because the life of your average Premier League footballer is about as gritty as the bonnet of one of his 200 grand Bentleys.

Premier League footballers may be rich, but that doesn't make them compelling. Struggle is compelling, tragedy is compelling, suffering is compelling. All round Rio's mock Tudor mansion for a Fifa 2010 tournament and a couple of bottles of Cristal? I'm not sure what that is.

Elsewhere in modern sport, Andy Murray spends his time away from the court winning Wimbledon on his Playstation; Lewis Hamilton, who moved to Geneva primarily for tax reasons in 2007, declared a year later that he "didn't have much of a life"; and Tiger Woods... well, maybe there's a film in him after all.

Francois Pienaar accepts the World Cup trophy from Nelson MandelaFrancois Pienaar accepts the World Cup trophy from Nelson Mandela

Americans, admittedly, are more adept at mythologising their national pastimes than we Brits. Maybe they're just better at making films. They got "Field of Dreams", we got "There's Only One Jimmy Grimble"; they got "The Longest Yard", we got "When Saturday Comes"; they got "Hoosiers", we got "Mike Bassett: England Manager".

"Bend It Like Beckham" and "The Damned United" are decent enough, but arguably the best film about football (excluding documentaries) is "Escape to Victory", and any film that has Sly Stallone between the sticks can't really claim to be about football at all.

While "Invictus" has rugby at its heart, it might have been a better film if the actual rugby had been more peripheral. A more daring director might, for example, have delved into the food poisoning that struck down many of New Zealand's players on the eve on the final.

All Black coach Laurie Mains went on to claim, although not in the immediate aftermath, that his team had been sabotaged by a mysterious waitress called "Suzie", while Nelson Mandela's former head of security reinforced those claims in a recent book.

Shady waitresses and poisonings can make for gripping cinema, but they're unlikely to get the audience a whoopin' and a hollerin'.

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Instead, Eastwood attempts to crank up the tension by expecting us to believe a low-flying jumbo jet might crash into Ellis Park seconds before kick-off.

Americans are often accused of being ignorant of the affairs of the outside world, but a few thousand people killed in a terrorist attack at a major sporting event in Johannesburg? Had it happened, I'm pretty sure they 'd have got wind of it.

It is interesting to note that the gift Mandela gave to Springbok captain Francois Pienaar before the tournament wasn't the poem "Invictus", which was written by William Ernest Henley and which provided succour for Mandela during his incarceration on Robben Island, but an extract from a Theodore Roosevelt speech, "The Man in the Arena".

The speech includes the line: "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."

If you still remember the men who were actually in the arena during that extraordinary World Cup final of 1995, faces marred by dust and sweat and blood, then it's likely your heart will be unconquered by this Hollywood retelling.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I agree, sports films generally dissappoint, if your a fan of the sport, the game sequences will never be realistic enough, if your not a fan of the sport, you have no interest in the theme.

    But Invictus is an incredibly well made film covering the importance that sport plays in uniting people, and even a whole country. As a huge rugby fan, the actual games were not too interesting to me, but the interaction between Pienaar and his squad, and Mandela were fascinating.

  • Comment number 2.

    All fair comments. The other difficulty with Invictus is that it is trying to use a sporting contest as a snapshot of a political and cultural problem that is by no means resolved even to this day. Don't want to judge the film without seeing it but I have the worrying suspicion that the layman could leave the cinema under the impression that all is now well in SA sport/society because of this one event. Would that be fair comment Ben?

    Incidentally, why have there been no great cricket films? This is one sport that could carry a hefty plotline, with all of the grittiness, sleazyness, subterfuge etc. that a cinema audience would need. Realise that it wouldn't do well in the American market but it wouldn't need a huge budget to succeed in England, the southern hemisphere and the sub-continent. If I've missed one I'd love it if people could point me in the right direction.

    By the way, Caddyshack surely deserved a mention!!!

  • Comment number 3.

    Nice article, though the inner pedant in me has spotted that the escape to victory link is wrong.

  • Comment number 4.

    Good article ben, as a huge sports and cinema fan im always fascinated by the attempted crossover. success's are few and far between, i would suggest you watch a film not mentioned here if you haven't already. 'friday night lights' is by far my favourite sports film of all time, it highlihgts the pressures felt by high school athletes in america trying to get into college and the expectaations of a community, with some great performances. well wortth a watch.

  • Comment number 5.

    Great article, love the combination of sport and film knowledge! I haven't seen the film myself although i have all intentions in doing so but can the film deal with the political issues as well as delivering a captivating plot? We shall see

  • Comment number 6.

    I saw the film last week and would say that, as a Rugby fan, the political side is the more interesting but the film is well crafted. Yes, it glorifies the situation but as the author has said, this is only due to his incredible achievements in reality. I only felt that it leaves you with an impression that this incident resolved all racial issues in SA which may be due to the way that American audiences require a complete conclusion but removes a section of reality from the film. Still, it is very watchable and entertaining as a film that uses a particular event to highlight the political and racial divide in South Africa at the time, which is how I think it should be viewed, not as you have reviewed it, as a sporting film to be compared with others in this category. I think this slightly misses the point.

  • Comment number 7.

    Haven't seen it, but being an Eastwood fan, I'm sure it will be, at least, a good professional effort.

    The difficulty with sports films is how to meaningfully marry the fan experience, which is what sports is really about for 99% of people, with the 'reality', which is what it's about for players, coaches, administrators, journos and money people.

    You mention Raging Bull as a model for a good sports film. It works because it is about an individual and his demons, but that alone might not be appropriate for the 1995 Springbok triumph, which has that huge political dimension.
    Maybe another way to do this would be to have the actual players and the game in the background, like in the great German football movie about the 1954 world cup (The Miracle of Bern). This allows the movie to comment on other things, in this case a boy growing up in the aftermath of WW2 with a damaged POW father, and how football becomes their vehicle for hope. I could easily see this approach working as a model for a movie about the 1995 rugby union world cup in post-Apartheid SA.

    Incidentally, there was a pre-1994 South African TV series called 'The Game' about rugby, focusing on a white and a colored player making it to the top, becoming friends despite Apartheid, etc. It starred Gavin Hunt (director of Tsotsi) as the main character. While it's probably quite dated now, being an Apartheid era production, though a 'liberal' one, it could be another model, by focusing on young players making it in an old, conservative world, in the process creating a new world (rite of passage of both people and country).

    Actually, maybe comedy is the best vehicle for sports films - it's just a game after all, and we're all a bit silly for being so obsessed by it. There's Bull Durham, Caddyshack, Happy Gilmore; but my vote goes to Slap Shot, even though, or maybe because, I have no interest in ice hockey whatsoever.

    And I, too, would pay to see a cricket film. And forget the Attenborough approach, get Tarantino.

  • Comment number 8.

    Agree with FredPelly

    This seemed to me to be a movie that ties things up in a nice pretty bow for American audiences who like closure. A shame. The reality of the following, up until current, South African situation is missed. The films does ok in highlighting the divide but almost washes things away too much by making out that it all comes down to this Rugby Match which was Symbolic but ultimately meaningless. It could have been better used as a window into S.A which people outside the country are rarely able to see through and still assume that since the ending of Apartheid things have evened out and life has improved for Black South Africa.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the film - I'm a Saffer, so no surprise there - but not expecting to be blown away by any recreation of the final! I mean, that sort of sporting theatre is not meant to be re-enactable. Morgan Freeman's Mandela, according to my folks back home, is exceptional though.

    The litmus test for me will be whether Eastwood has managed to capture the milieu. How the '95 win fits within South Africa's recent history, and how educational the film is in this respect. I really don't have a problem with including some editorial licence which makes it easier for audiences, American audiences especially, to understand the historical context. An it is a fairy-tale story, very few people expected us to win, and that number remained pretty low even going in to the final.

    Speaking of the "men who were actually in the arena", Ruben Kruger was one of them and he tragically died last week after a battle against brain cancer. So I fancy that regardless of how much I am moved by the film itself, any time the Springbok number 7 appears on screen I'll get a big lump in my throat.

  • Comment number 10.

    I haven't seen the film yet. I probably will as it is directed by Clint Eastwood and I love his work - Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, High Plains Drifter, even the Changeling - and I remember watching the final and when the SA boys dropped to their knees in prayer at the final whistle and thinking 'wow, this is cinematic.' A film about rugby union - hmmm - tough sell. Wonder how they got that past the studio executives.

    In my opinion, the greatest boxing film is 'Diggstown' (aka Midnight Sting) where james Woods plays a hack promoter and Louis Gossett jr his fighter. I'm stunned and disappointed that a boxing writer like yourself, Ben, has not used the platform of his blog to promote this gem to a wider audience - slick, funny and wonderfully cynical.

  • Comment number 11.

    In many ways it's a shame that Francois Pienaar was such an unremarkable player.

  • Comment number 12.

    As for great sporting films, okay, maybe not great, but "Sweet and Short" by Leon Schuster is hilarious. And oddly prophetic too.

  • Comment number 13.

    Juast to add to the list of great sportign films, The great White Hype for boxing, and Remmeber the Titans and the Express for American Football.

  • Comment number 14.

    This is a wonderful film on the themes touched upon by others above. It also shows the length to which Mandela went to keep his country and people united.

    The focus of this film is Invictus, a poem Mandela shared with Francois, which seems to have inspired him and his team....

    Morgan Freeman, Adjoa, Matt and the Mandela Chief of Security, and indeed entire team, have done a marvelous job.... Soundtrack excellent!

  • Comment number 15.

    The more I think about it, the more I think that a film about the Springbok triumph should be a hilarious tale of pantomime villains, media hysteria, mud wrestling, and laxative abuse.

    The heroes:
    - Francois Pienaar
    - Nelson Mandela
    - Chester '4-tries' Williams
    - Joel 'you beauty' Stransky
    The villains:
    - Jonah '4-tries' Lomu
    - James Small
    - Suzie (Louis Luyt in drag)
    - the rain in Durban

  • Comment number 16.

    Happy Gilmore anyone?

  • Comment number 17.

    FYI Ben: I actually wrote a film plot about Rugby Union. Jack Black was the charismatic hooker who gets called up to replace the USA hooker at the last minute. However, they get thrashed by the All Blacks, Japan and Argentina. Plenty of sterotyping and it'd be the bomb in the States. You heard it here first.

  • Comment number 18.

    Happy Gilmore, very good.
    Slap Shot just above it.

  • Comment number 19.

    Jack Black would be a good fit, but to work in the US, they need to beat the All Blacks in a nail-biting last-minute triumph of sheer guts.

    Talking of which, Jack Black's fairy godmother, Suzie, appears on the eve of the final and promises to help them out.

    Just after half-time, trailing by 50, the USA fight back begins when Joe Rokocoko outsprints everyone, then, ball in hand, veers off to disappear down the tunnel.

  • Comment number 20.

    There is a cricket film out there, The Final Test from 1953, it has the likes of Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Alec Bedser, Godfrey Evans, Jim Laker, Cyril Washbrook and John Arlott in it, though they do only make cameo appearances, instead it stars Jack Warner and Robert Morley.
    It's not a great film, but Terence Rattigans script will give a few chuckles to cricket fans, especially the bemused American senators reaction to newpaper headlines like "England finished" and Morley hamming it up is always worth a watch.
    It's a hard to find film, dated, but well worth it.

  • Comment number 21.

    Mr Dirs,

    Regardless of the point you are making in this article, I just cannot believe you did not say "Fever Pitch" when talking about the best football movie. By far better than any example you gave.

  • Comment number 22.

    if you count pool as a sport you can add The Hustler and to a lesser extent the Colour Of Money to your list of good sports films

  • Comment number 23.

    Hello, and many thanks for all your comments...

    Deep-heat - Apparently there is a pretty good Indian film about cricket, think it's called Lagaan and is supposed to be worth a watch.

    fredpelly - I understand your point, but I think that's the problem really, they've made it to be too much about rugby and sport when I think the final, as someone has pointed out below your comment, would have been better served up as a backdrop.

    mr-hag - Not sure about sports comedies. To be honest, I've never really found them funny. Caddyshack's all right, but not, as I've had people argue, the that best film ever made! And Happy Gilmore is rubbish. Saying that, there's some funny bits in Talladega Nights, and Blades of Glory come to think of it.

    The_same_Eddie-George - Yes, very sad to here of the death of Ruben Kruger, some player...

    roo-is-class - Got to be honest, I've never seen Fever Pitch. Read the book, and that was pretty good, considering it was about Arsenal...

  • Comment number 24.

    Gavelaa - Saying Francois Pienaar was an unremarkable player is like saying the same of Martin Johnson. I was fortunate enough to be coached by Francois and whilst he may not be a people person, he is certainly remarkable.

    He was by no means glitzy, but a great worker, he brought a composure and professionalism to the team, his
    leadership skills (on the field) were second to none.

    Great player.

  • Comment number 25.

    Hi Ben, you're on form with this article.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the movie. I enjoy Clints movies, Unforgiven has some fantastic quotes and and is a great movie along with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. I thought Million Dollar baby could have been referenced in your post as it is pretty gritty at times. Grand Torino had me smiling, a near 80 year old man reenacting, for what I assume to be his last time, his roles of Blondie and Dirty Harry, great stuff.

    In drama nothing beats Raging Bull but probably one of the best films I have ever seen of any genre is Hoop Dreams. That's as real as it gets.

    BTW is Matt Damon convincing as a rugby player and does Morgan Freeman overplay Mandela?

  • Comment number 26.

    Enjoyable read and Lagaan is good stuff I can confirm. But a documentary-style film of rich footballers giving tours of their homes (just think of the weird stuff they must have in them) would be quite fun I think- and when they retire this might be how they actually try to fund their ridiculous lifestyles.

  • Comment number 27.

    Invictus is not a "sports film".
    It is a movie that uses the backdrop of a sporting event to show how a nation was brought together after years of white oppression.
    Having been lucky enough to have already seen the film, I can say without a shadow of a doubt it is one of the best movies I have seen in years.
    For me as a Jew, it is up there with Schindlers list.

  • Comment number 28.

    Ben, The original book was called Playing the Enemy - the premise being that Mandela could lead his own people but the difficulty was to also bring the whites - 'the enemy' - onside at the same time, hence the book title.
    The book shows a fascinating example of his extraordinary leadership that he was able to consider, let alone execute, this concept. So Mandela's playing of 'the enemy' was to use the one thing the whites loved which was sport, especially rugby. Although Mandela knew little of rugby he studied and used it to motivate the whites to his way of thinking - the rockbed of the story isn't the winning of the Rugby World Cup, but using that as a stepping stone for wider acceptance of the rainbow nation. So do look beyond the rugby aspects and consider the wider leadership skill of Nelson Mandela. The book is well worth the read.

  • Comment number 29.

    You are probably too familiar with the sport and the events presented in the movie. I am Canadian and my rugby knowledge is limited to what I managed to understand when I went to South Africa and New Zealand.

    So for me, Invictus was a great movie. Most of it was unknown to me. I read several books on Mr. Mandela but none really addressed his relation with the Springboks.

    As an analogy, the Montreal Canadians hockey club celebrated its 100th anniversary last year and a movie was produced around the team. The movie was not well received in Quebec - probably because we know too much of the real history. May be a good clip for sports fan in the UK - who knows?

  • Comment number 30.

    @Robert Garneau

    I've have heard similar reactions from American friends and relations of mine who saw the film. All I would say is that the symbolism of Nelson Mandela wearing a Springbok jersey that famous day continues to endure in the country's psyche.

    For those that watched the 2007 rugby world cup, which SA also won, at the end of the final President Mbeki joined the team on the field. And it wasn't just a case of him shaking hands and other niceties, it was all back-slapping and warm embraces, for a while he was even carried around on the shoulders of the players. Honestly, can you imagine any other leader getting similar treatment?

    The spontaneity we saw in '07 was because the unique relationship between SA sports teams and political leaders, the best parts of which are down to Mandela and what he did in '95. (Ps. Not all of this relationship is positive, far from it, but when SA sports teams are successful they do share the joy around!)

  • Comment number 31.

    Your slur on British made sports films in comparison with their American counterparts needs rethinking when one conjures up the classic Oscar-winner, "Chariots of Fire". How could you omit to mention this movie form your blog?
    Surely, one of the most stirring and lofty sports films ever made.

  • Comment number 32.

    Sounds a pretty lowest-common denominator type film to start with(having to 'explain' apartheid -surely it was in the news at the time in America?!-, and rugby) -then to "9-11-alise" the story with a terrorist jumbo is laughable.

  • Comment number 33.

    reading the comments below and some great sporting films have been mentioned but the greatest sporting film ever has to be 'Blackball' (bowls at its finest)

  • Comment number 34.

    1751949 - Sorry, you're right, I forgot about Chariots of Fire. Then again, I don't thik I've seen it for about 20 years! And that doesn't change my opinion of British sports films, for the most part they're terrible

  • Comment number 35.

    "For those that watched the 2007 rugby world cup, which SA also won, at the end of the final President Mbeki joined the team on the field. And it wasn't just a case of him shaking hands and other niceties, it was all back-slapping and warm embraces, for a while he was even carried around on the shoulders of the players. Honestly, can you imagine any other leader getting similar treatment?"


    This still just ignores the reality and once again is using a sporting event to cover up serious problems, his great response for the players was a great diversion.

    2007 is probably even a worse example of what I pointed out earlier of the sport being a distraction.

    Despite Mbeki milking the Springboks success it doesn't change the fact that since 1994 the gap between rich white and poor black is as big as it ever was and the opportunities for blacks in S.A are still incredibly constricted. Anyone who has passed through the slums outside the SA cities or eating in any Restaurant can tell you. South Africa's problems, despite the 1995 glory are still as worrying as ever.

    Now SA has a president who is Anti-Afrikaans, a friend and supporter of Robert Mugabe and was quoted in his campaign as admitting he has slept with a women he knew was HIV positive (without protection) but he knew he was fine because "he had a shower afterwards"

    How important does the Mbeki celebrations at the RWC 2007 seem now? Should they make a movie about that as well?

  • Comment number 36.

    It is so easy to criticise any film as it is easy to forget some best British films like Chariots on fire. With such gross omissions, one wonders the validity of the criticisms made.

  • Comment number 37.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 38.

    I wasn't that impressed with the film.

    Also, it tried to paint the problems as being solved....hackneyed scenes like the security guards going from distrust and hate to playing rugby together at the end.

    The facts are that since the ANC came to power whites have left the country in droves.

  • Comment number 39.

    "South Africa's problems, despite the 1995 glory are still as worrying as ever."

    Some of them are, definitely.

    None of what happens on the rugby field fundamentally deals with the underlying social and economic problems in South Africa. But I don't think anyone is arguing this point.

    What you need to remember that there was serious racial angst just beneath the surface when the ANC came into power. There was huge uncertainty about the future of the country, about race relations, about the stability of the nation. Mandela assauged this angst in ways that it is impossible to value, and his relationship with the Springbok team was one of the most obviously symbolic ways he did this.

    I'd be the first to condemn people who have an unabashed rosy view of the country, just as I will willingly point out some of the things that we can be proud of. There are times when I worry deeply about SA, and it is terribly easy to be cynical. But if you told me 20 years ago that South Africa would look how it does today, I'd have written you off as barking mad. With South Africa, there's still plenty of reason for hope.

    As to your comments about the current president, Jacob Zuma, he has some horrendous baggage not least the strong smell of corruption which follows him. But he's already taken a much firmer and more constructive approach than Mbeki on AIDS, and as a trade unionist he is much closer to Tsvangirai - when vying for the ANC leadership, he was strongly critical of Mugabe.

  • Comment number 40.

    And just to follow on on point from what I wrote at 39, I'm not saying Mbeki deserved to enjoy the '07 celebrations with the team. I am saying he did, though, because of the enduring memory of Mandela in '95, that to the players it felt right to celebrate on the field with him.

    Even so, and despite the serious failings of his presidency, Mbeki was the chief ANC negotiator with the De Klerk government and for that leadership alone I don't begrudge his moment in the limelight with the Springboks.

  • Comment number 41.

    I don't think any film can can truly capture the magic of an amazing sporting occaision. The 1995 world cup it the ultimate in sport endeavours. Capturing that on 2 hours of film is next to impossible.

    There is another question out there, why? It would have been much better save the millions and millions it took to make the film and give it to those in South Africa who are still missing the benefits of what the 1995 win heralded.

    On one hand, great that a legend such as Clint Eastwood has approached Rugby - but in reality - its such a tragedy that a great has to put it into film for people (the yanks/ the world) to get the message.

  • Comment number 42.

    No mention of Morgan Freemans appearance in the 1992 boxing/appartheid movie called "The Power Of One" where Morgan played a prisoner, on the wrong side of the appartheid laws, who befriends a young white man and teaches him to box to 'unite the tribes'.

    As I remember it, it was a film similar to Mississippi Burning and amazing that it was released when it was (so soon after Mandelas release).

    Films will never capture the true feeling or passion of an unscripted event - that's why Motty often refers to how it is impossible to 'write such a script'.

  • Comment number 43.

    flyinghurdler2: "Since 1994 the gap between rich white and poor black is as big as it ever was"

    Maybe even bigger, but so is the gap between newly rich black and poor black.

    flyinghurdler2: "the opportunities for blacks in S.A are still incredibly constricted"

    Not as much as they were, and not by law, which makes a huge difference. Denying this fundamental factor denies the achievements of people like Mandela.

  • Comment number 44.

    @Number 10 Thanks for bringing up DiggsTown.Has to be the best boxing movie I've ever seen.Lou Gossett played the supposedly over hill boxer.I've loved James Woods and Oliver Platt ever since.Thanks for the memories mate!

  • Comment number 45.

    Okay, so i'm a rock climber, but i still love the mainstream sports too. If you remember a film Vertical Limit which was hated by the climbing community. As a complete outsider, the film was great (apparently) and the simple answer applies here too: normal life is generally pretty dull. The main plot if done accurately is of no interest to anyone outside those who like the sport in the first place, and in this case, the better ones tend to be more documentary than film.

    I realised a long time ago that this is true in most other genres - most cops don't act like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, the life of a mathematician is not normally that of Tom Hanks in Da Vinci Code, and so on and so forth. True stories about sport (remember Cool Runnings) are generally better done as either documentaries, or with major errors to those who really know, the latter having major innacuracies i would imagine, such as the fight in the bar, and the coach's loss of three gold medals. Please feel free to correct me if i'm wrong!

    But a good article, pretty much hitting the same points. I haven't seen this, but as a bit of a rugby fan, and with the six nations starting at the weekend, i might be inspired to try it.

  • Comment number 46.

    Excellent movie. Having seen it here in Mexico, my 12 year old daughter who is normally quite perplexed about my passion for Irish rugby, got carried away and is now a fan of South Africa.
    As far as I know, the jumbo jet event did happen.

  • Comment number 47.

    iv seen the film and think its excellent - morgan freeman is excellent playing mandella and matt damon also plays his part terrifically. its not just abou the rugby its about a nation coming together and if you have the mental capabilities to just watch it as a film and take your mind off rugby you will enjoy it but unfortunately many probably wont be able to do so but its well worth a watch if youve got a couple of hours free

  • Comment number 48.

    Did you really think that Invictus was about Rugby?

  • Comment number 49.

    john harrison - Got to be honest, I've never seen Diggstown. Thanks for the tip-off, I might have to look it up.

    Firbolg - Yes, Ellis Park was buzzed by a jet before the match, but unlike in the film, no-one thought it might come careering into the stadium. I thought that was a little bit naughty of Clint.

    p4pno1 - Well, it's supposed to be about the coming together of a nation, but I just think that that part of it was all drawn in pretty broad brushstrokes, there wasn't much in the way of subtlety. I agree, Morgan Freeman was pretty good, although I can't help thinking he'll be dug out to play Mandela again. And Matt Damon was OK too, although he was pretty one-dimensional to be honest.

  • Comment number 50.

    Invictus is a decent film, i enjoyed it but wouldn't say anything more. Rugby was poor, although i expected this. Acting was average, but the message was strong. However, i feel for a good film, same message and just a better all round film, "Remember the Titans" is a fantastic film. I highly recommend watching it :)

  • Comment number 51.

    fair doos still well worth a watch though some non rugby scenes are very good especially when Damons in Mandelas actual prison cell.

  • Comment number 52.

    Good blog, agree with "This Sporting Life" as best rugby film, and possibly best sports film - although "Remember the Titans" is pretty good and there are a few boxing films that stand out. The obvious ones have been mentioned, but "Somebody Up There Likes Me", based on the life of middleweight boxing legend Rocky Graziano, is my favourite.

    Although not strictly about cricket, "Ptang Yang Kipperbang" is a cracking film from the early channel 4 days.

  • Comment number 53.

    anyway Ben you not making a blog about the Mayweather Vs Mosley fight? surely the pound for pound number 1/2 against number 3/4 deserves a mention, try and capture some of the casuals early on silence the "boxing is dead" gang ahead of what's sure to be a superb event? floyd UD for me

  • Comment number 54.

    Am I the only person who can't watch the trailers for this film without remembering the Mitchell & Webb sketch about two blokes, who know nothing about cricket, trying to make a cricket film?

    "Remember - there are NO DRAWS in Cricket!"

  • Comment number 55.

    Yes the jumbo jet incident did occur but there was never a chance it would hit the stadium AND it was pre-planned therefore Mandela's security already knew what was going to happen.

    I read the book 'Playing the Enemy' when it came out in the UK and I have to say it is one of the best books I have ever read. Mandela used rugby not only to unite the whites on his side but also the black South Africans who hated the Springbok emblem. The fact that black South Africans were willing to sit and support the Boks in the final was testament to men like Mandela and many others within his government who held the same view. I'm not saying all black South Africans supported the team because there were many who could not bring themselves to do so.

  • Comment number 56.

    No good films about football?

    I submit 'Gregory's Girl' in evidence, your honour.

    Absolutely nothing to do with Dee or Clare. Obviously.

  • Comment number 57.

    I thought some of the Harry Potter films were quite excellent sport films revolving around Quidditch. A few good arena scenes, but with a lot of exploration into the surrounding psychology of the players and all that.

    Though I must admit, the introduction of a mad psychopath out to snuff out the main player was a bit of overkill.

    In the same vein, Ben Hur was an excellent movie about chariot racing.

    Ditto, Titanic, swimming.

  • Comment number 58.

    Invictus captures the tension of the end of Apartheid and the gift Mandela had for leadership and reconciliation. To have had better rugby scenes , included the food poisoning, taken the story on afterwards would have missed the point. It was about the extraordinary grace Mandela brought to his job and how a few Afrikaans responded. Maybe it works best for US audiences but it is none the worse for it and I suspect that most Brits are not much more familiar with the story anyway.

  • Comment number 59.

    I really enjoyed the movie,but couldn,t they have found someone to play the Bok outside half who looked like he could kick a ball properly out of hand.

  • Comment number 60.

    I'm sorry and all that, but I'm of the school of thought which holds that Hollywood is better able to distort than to report, and more prone to reductionism than to insight. I don't know that Eastwood and co. have much to add about either rugby or apartheid, frankly, and their speculations about putative terrorism are less than fatuous.

    Anyway, the real questions which came out of World Cup 1995 weren't of a sort best addressed by the Hollywood mill. Is South Africa today really a united "rainbow nation" on the high road to success? What became of the player who was paralysed in a pool clash (I think his name is Brito), and what has been done to avert any repetition? There are lots of questions of that nature which are real enough - maybe too real to occur to the folk at Hollywood. After all, Hollywood is the institution which turned the second world war into an epic of self-congratulatory Jerry-slaying prancing heriocs: one should perhaps not expect too much from that quarter in general.

    I admit that my own interests don't even run to the bigger issues. Why on earth did it take Lomu to expose the fastidious non-tacklers in the English outside backs? Why didn't Mehrtens - usually such a sensible tactician - close the game down in the final? Not, of course, that Eastwood is the one I'd ask to help me understand these matters.

    The best advice I have for myself is not to confuse cinema with sport, 'though I watch both on the box...

  • Comment number 61.

    As we're talking about sport in film, I just wanted to flag up Dodgeball, as I don't think its had a mention yet. OK, I know it isn't really about sport and I know dodgeball isn't even a proper sport but there's one aspect to it that makes me laugh pretty regularly:

    Anyone who plays amateur football at the weekend (I play in two leagues in Bristol) will recognise in Ben Stiller and his team mates the pathetic attempts to look 'hard' and try and intimidate the opposition that you get on the pitches on the rec or at the park. Every team has at least a couple of these players. They normally have a contrived 'scary' nickname like Psycho or Killer, they're generally overweight and hungover, they are, as a rule, rubbish at football and if they're marking you at a corner they'll normally try and elbow you whilst whispering in their ear that they're going to break your legs.

    When I was younger these guys scared me, when I was a bit older they got me angry but now I just laugh in their faces and ask them what has upset them so much. On one occasions, thinking of the film, I told some big bloke with a beer gut (plays for Coalpit Heath in case anyone knows him) that he'd look great in a jumpsuit. He didn't seem too chuffed bhut it made me chuckle a bit.

  • Comment number 62.

    Just a quick thought. The American sports are much more cinematic, with constant set pieces, great "clutch" moments that are great for the screen and can be acted out convincingly, whereas a more free flowing sport like rugby and football would be much harder to show.

    Many many great films about American Football, Basketball and Baseball out there, pity there is not the same for good old fashioned British sports...

  • Comment number 63.

    Re 54 Mu Beta

    when I watch advertisements on Sky for Super Sunday or whatever the big game is this week I keep thinking about another Mitchell & Webb sketch. And don't get me started on snooker.

    There was a poster who said there are no good films about cricket. Although not a film there was a TV mini series called Bodyline made in the 1980s. Excellent stuff. Dunno if stands the test of time though.

  • Comment number 64.

    Just on the low-flying jumbo - from people I know who were at the game, no-one knew this was going to happen and most only caught the briefest of glimpses of the plane. The thing they all remember is how incredibly loud it was, especially after the plane had disappeared from view.

    I get the impression Invictus dramatised this with some 9/11 overtures thrown in, but honestly, you speak to anyone who went to the game they only fully understood what happened with the plane after they got home and saw highlights on tv.

  • Comment number 65.

    For a great football movie with political and personal blended to perfection, see The Miracle of Bern. Can't be bettered.

  • Comment number 66.

    The guys in the earlier posts bemoaning that there's never been a cricket film, should look out for 'Bodyline' which was about a 1930's Ashes tour in Oz when the English used this contriversial method of bowling. I'm not a big cricket fan and I don't tend to enjoy sports films, for all the reasons mentioned above, but (possibly because or despite) not being a cricket fan thoughly enjoyed this film. I'd rate it as one of the better more factual sports films, defnately better than the jingoistic US sports films like Bull Durham.

  • Comment number 67.

    I agree with deep heat that it is a shame that there has not been any films that have documented what is the most fascinating sport of the lot, cricket. However I hear that there are plans to bring the trials and tribulations of the West Indies cricket team of the 1970s and 1980s to the big screen in War in Babylon. I personally cannot wait, any chance to see the likes of Greenidge, sobers, lloyd and richards, will certainly be worth the entry ticket!

  • Comment number 68.

    Don't look at it as a sports film- it's a film of the book. Read Playing the Enemy, by John Carlin. It'superb. Mandela's political nous in manipulating feelings about rugby in South Africa is stupendous.

  • Comment number 69.

    Whilst I admire most of Clint Eastwood's films, I was somewhat disappointed with his last film Grand Torino , not for the film itself but the extras on the DVD, here was a case of over here we would definitely do it better , step forward Jeremy Clarkson and The Stig. ( sorry you would have to watch the dvd to understand but in short it was for my liking to sanitised ).
    As to this lasted venture, I am uncertain as to whether I would watch it either in the Cinema or on DVD. Why put simply I am a rugby fan and whilst I understand it its not meant to be entirely on rugby but also on the political climate of the time. Having read your blog it seems that this film is sanitised for an American audience, which is a pity.
    I am an England rugby supporter and you might expect me to say that the 2003 RWC would be the most important match for me, However, the 1995 RWC was important on many levels. South Africa been welcomed back properly into the rugby community, now the RWC was a true competition in that all the major forces of rugby were present. It was not just New Zealand who fancied winning this crown, England believed at the time that they had a good chance.
    Also there was of course Nelson Mandela, newly elected President of South Africa, whose presence ignited everyone, I was not there but remember watching it on television . It was an unprecedented event and one in which the South Africans and the rugby world can be proud of. Oh and New Zealand and the food poisoning saga....hmmm ;)
    Sorry Ben this is one film I would have preferred been directed by someone else..and not aiming to satisfy an American audience. In my view the occasion was too important.

  • Comment number 70.

    i think you forget one exceptional sporting film...happy gilmore. This film focusses on the technique of the drive whilst leading the viewer into the mind games between pro sportsmen. If that is not enough, it has a hint of romance and nostalgia.

    regarding invictus - the point in the film is about apartheid, no the rugby itself. You and some of the other comments mentioned how it brought together. this is not to say the country is perfect. it is not. But my mrs is not a rugby fan but she did grow up in J'berg, not far from the stadium. her memory of the final is one of the happiest of her life as i believe it will be for many. this is not just because sa won the world cup. at that point, and in particular the moment with mandella wearing the bokke jursey was a symbol to all of sa. people partied for days regardless of colour etc. it was the first real oportunity to bond the coountry. unfortunately im not sure this comes accross so well in the film so i'm told.

    sadly - i'm not sure the sa football team will trigger such a response either...largley because they won't win...

  • Comment number 71.

    Nice article Ben

    Some great films have been mentioned here, but for me "The Set-Up" is surely the grittiest and the best best boxing movie ever made.

  • Comment number 72.

    Even though, this movie is not fully concentrating on sport, Looking for Eric, is a great movie. Centering around a footballing legend.

  • Comment number 73.

    Not seen the film, but I thought I could mention a couple of films about sport that are worth watching.

    TIN CUP - film with Kevin Costner, Don Johnson & Rene Russo. About a club pro who wins the US Open. Loads of cameo appearances from pro golfers of the time who actually enhance it.

    MIRACLE - Kurt Russel plays Herb Brooks the story of the US Ice-Hockey team that won the Gold Medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Amazing film. The guys that were picked to play the parts were not actors that could skate but Ice-Hockey players that could really act. The result is brilliant scenes on the ice.

    It was ranked as one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time. The US had not one a medal for 20 years and had up untill that point been picking players from the NHL to play. Brooks who was a college coach decided to pick college hockey players mainly from Boston & Minnesota Uni.

    Remember this is a true story. An All star NHL team played the Soviet team the week before the Olympics and got hammered.

    Fantastic film by Disney.

  • Comment number 74.

    I have to ask, does Invictus at any point include the Springboks' mass brawl with the Canadian team in their group-stage match?

  • Comment number 75.

    There are a couple of cricket films out. A 2007 release was called 'Wondrous Oblivion', set in the 1960's follows a story of how cricket can forge friendships between people from different cultural backgrounds. The Australian film producer Peter Clifton is currently making a film called 'The Bloody Ashes' based on the 1932-33 bodyline England Ashes tour, which could be an interesting watch.

  • Comment number 76.

    On the front of good sports films, I thought The Cinderella Man was a great film, Crowe trained with his hero Kastya for the fight scenes, but again it shows what you've stated adversity makes a good film!

  • Comment number 77.

    I personally am glad if it has stuck to the facts. Im getting so tired of americans using the corny tired formula or rewriting history or using emotional garbage to give its own perspective. What shocks me more is that so many people seem to believe its real history or how real life works. I think you can have exciting films and entertaining films without having to change a real life war situation into a ramboesque fantasy etc. Has anyone seen Hurt Locker? after hearing rave reviews about it i watched it and couldnt believe how unrealistic and just totally stupid that film was. It was quite boring too and it really makes me wonder how easily influanced or impressed people seem to be these days.

  • Comment number 78.

    Shame on all of you.

    There has actually been a fantastic film based on sport and, loosely though more rigidly than most, on true events.

    It'll have you in stitches from start to finish and is very timely.

    Cool Runnings.


  • Comment number 79.

    good call, Ben, about what makes a good sporting movie.

    Best boxing movie? It's could be a close call between Raging Bull + Rocky, but Bob Dylan's inspiring soundtrack to the Hurricane, makes it a contender.

    or maybe the best fight movie was one of the documentaries about Ali? When They Were Kings (the Rumble in the Jungle, with Foreman) or the Thriller In Manila (his trilogy of fights with Joe Frazier)

    Best Olympics movie? Chariots of Fire might have had the bestselling soundtrack, but do you remember The Games (1970) with Michael Crawford about the Rome marathon of 1960? Never released on video, + rarely shown on TV, but a glorious + tragic final race for the stadium + the finishing line, with a barefoot athlete from Ethiopia.

    Best Australian Rules Football movie? The Club (1980) about Collingwood's run for the championship against all the odds.......inspiring theme-tune, Up There, Cazaly!

    Best sporting movie, not yet made? It's gotta be the Lions tour...........and for sheer blood, guts + courage, nothing could top the 99 call of the 1974 tour of South Africa. Is there a movie director out there, brave enough to make it?

  • Comment number 80.

    RWC1995 was especially memorable for SA rugby fans the world over for it was the moment the country came in from the cold. Prior to the sport isolation movement SA was undoubtedly the No1 rugby nation in the world. All that changed during the isolation years as the rugby landscape changed. As it was said at the time; Hollywood could not have scripted it better - to be the RWC hosts - to be the underdogs - to be in the final - to be playing the old enemy New Zealand - to be drawn at full time - to be drawn in extra time - to win with a last gasp drop kick. It was almost unbearable to watch as the tension was so great sitting in front of a TV screen in the UK.

    It was an absolutely massive feel-good moment for the nation after years of internal trouble and strife and ceaseless international criticism.

    I doubt if anyone beyond the team and Madiba's inner circle knew what Mandela was up to behind the scenes. His appearance in a Bok jersey at the award ceremony really was the cherry on the top. He stage managed the whole exercise perfectly and he reaped his political rewards as much as the players and fans reaped their sporting rewards.

    Clint Eastwood and his team have done an excellent job in telling this political tale set against the backdrop of a major sports event.

    Although this is not a sport movie the future will tell how much rugby will benefit from this global exposure.

    Reading and viewing the interviews on the www it seems as if the Americans are not aware of the existence of rugby league and the difference between league and union. Sssshhh....... Lets keep it that way.

    Rugby union forever! The greatest contact ball game in the world!


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