Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Human Calculation

In the buzz and critical fervor that passes through with each new Eastwood film it would be easy for film fans to dismiss his work as deliberate, discardable award-bait as opposed to the well constructed story-telling pieces they are.
Eastwood remains a talented story-teller who keeps his destination insight at all times. He uses the story of the South African Springbokks rugby team as an accessible means to demonstrate and effect social change. When I initially heard about the film Damon as protagonist seemed frustrating (ANOTHER film where a minority is saved by a kind, benevolent white guy?), but in fact the story remains centrally Nelson Mandela's, (Morgan Freeman) who realizes that all the oratory in the world won't change minds until he can point to concrete examples of social agency.

Hmmmm. Interesting.

Freeman does sterling work here. Like his director, it's so easy to put Freeman in a simple box. He is all too often the sage, almost magical black man (Shawshank Redemption the Almighty movies etc). Here we see that all to rare sight of Freeman the actor. His voice, his physicality, his mannerisms are all a perfect representation of one of the most recognizable men in the world. This doesn't feel like coasting or award grubbing. My one gripe with the Mandela of this film is that the movie goes out of its way to have one character say of Mandela "He's a man, not a saint." However, Freeman's Mandela is so eloquent, charming and thoughtful you'd be hard pressed NOT to think of him as worthy of canonizing. As Francois Pienaar Matt Damon has radically transformed his body back to the peak physical condition it was at pre-Informant! As the heroic team captain Damon is not pushing himself into new territory, though his accent and physicality feel spot on.

While heavy handed and frequently predictable, Peckham's story is able to have it's cake and eat it too. He retains the serious gravitas of a story that is both historically relevant (South Africa's struggle is as much cultural as it is racial) and yet framed in a sports context feels comfortable, conventional and is able to hit the expected beats. Sure it's predictable but Eastwood knows these elements and knows how to milk them for all they're worth. Will the all-business secret service agent bond with his new rugby loving partner? What do you think? Sure it all feels predictable but Eastwood and his actors make it work. For all its predictability Eastwood knows how to make those familiar tropes hit audiences right in the gut. When we finally get to that essential game winning moment that literally has the entire country watching I defy you not to get choked up. It's cheesy, but it works.

No comments: