By Alan Scherstuhl
By Chuck WIlson
By Amy Nicholson
By Chris Klimek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Stephanie Zacharek
By early August, barely two months after returning from South Africa, Eastwood and his long-time editor, Joel Cox (an Oscar winner for Unforgiven), have already finished a fine-cut assembly of Invictus, save for some 600 visual-effects shots that will be finessed before the film's December release.
"It's unexplored terrain," Eastwood tells me when I ask what drew him to the material, and indeed, though he has twice cast himself as something like an angel of death — in the existential westerns High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider — he has never made a film on an overtly supernatural subject. "I liked the way Peter Morgan incorporates real events like the [2004 Indian Ocean] tsunami and the terrorist attacks on London into a fictional story," he continues. "Also, there's a certain charlatan aspect to the hereafter, to those who prey on people's beliefs that there's some afterlife, and mankind doesn't seem to be willing to accept that this is your life and you should do the best you can with it and enjoy it while you're here, and that'll be enough. There has to be immortality or eternal life and embracing some religious thing. I don't have the answer. Maybe there is a hereafter, but I don't know, so I approach it by not knowing. I just tell the story."
Two weeks later, early on a Friday morning, visual effects supervisor Michael Owens has a batch of effects shots from Invictus' climactic World Cup Final ready for Eastwood's review, and as they look at the footage in a Warner screening room — Owens using a laser pointer to address certain details — what appears on the screen scarcely seems to be computer-generated at all. Owens, a veteran of George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, who first worked with Eastwood on 2000's Space Cowboys, acknowledges that there was a steep learning curve involved in bringing the director into the CGI era. Yet Eastwood has made the leap, and Owens has become one more indispensable player on the filmmaker's team.
"There's a selfishness to it," Eastwood says when I ask him about his well-known loyalty to his collaborators. "They're all people I can depend on. They're people I don't have to start from scratch with just in order to be on the same wavelength with them. They know kind of where I'm headed, and so we just say a few things to each other and we can be sort of minimalistic as far as the intellectual discussion of things."
The next time I see Eastwood is on a brisk, slate-colored morning in early November, when I drop by Hereafter's London set. A small auditorium in central London has been converted into the fictional Center For Psychic Advancement, for one of several scenes in which Marcus, a twelve-year-old boy from an inner-city housing estate, attempts to contact his twin brother, Jason, who is killed in a car accident earlier in the script. Although Eastwood seems his usually relaxed self, there's a subtle tension in the air brought on by the tight time restrictions governing the use of minors on film sets. Marcus and Jason are played, respectively and sometimes interchangeably, by Frankie and George McLaren, identical twins and screen newcomers who have been learning as they go on the set. Eastwood, who has directed children many times before, confides that some days have gone more smoothly than others, and in contrast to the taciturn, hands-off directing style he favors with stars like Damon and Freeman, these non-pros bring out another side of the actor-turned-director — the patient, nurturing mentor. It's a curious sight indeed, the gruff septuagenarian legend with his arm around the diminutive preteens, literally walking Frankie through the paces of one shot and, a bit later, standing just off camera, breaking down the emotional beats for a close-up in which Georgie must show, without the aid of dialogue, that he is losing faith in yet another sham psychic. "You're starting to think this guy's another phony," Eastwood whispers, then, after getting a reaction he likes, "You're feeling like you want to get up and leave."
As the day nears its end in London, Eastwood and producer Rob Lorenz stand around a computer watching QuickTime videos of the latest effects shots e-mailed by Owens from LA, where Invictus is being fine-tuned for its first press screenings.
When I see Invictus in its finished form a week or so later, I'm struck by how effectively Eastwood has managed to capture a sense of Mandela's diplomatic genius while neatly avoiding most of the potholes that have capsized many a Hollywood film about South Africa. In the late '80s and early '90s, as global outrage over apartheid politics grew, movies like The Power of One (which also starred Freeman), Cry Freedom (about assassinated activist Steve Biko) and A Dry White Season (featuring Marlon Brando as a charismatic human-rights attorney) took on the subject, offering a heavily stereotyped vision of the apartheid struggle, which one native South African, Financial Mail critic Peter Wilhelm, memorably termed "Adolf Hitler versus The Cosby Show."
Despite the presence of Damon as Springboks captain Francois Pienaar — and no shortage of bone-crunching rugby action — Invictus is unmistakably told through Mandela's eyes, with keen attention to the skepticism his policies engendered on both sides of South Africa's racial divide (typified by an excellent scene in which the president reprimands his own party members for plotting to abolish the Springbok team colors and logo, seen by many South African blacks as symbols of the apartheid patriarchy). At the same time, Eastwood's film doesn't suffer from the bleeding-heart rush to canonization that pervaded several lesser, made-for-TV Mandela movies. Although it's far from a comprehensive biopic, Eastwood and screenwriter Anthony Peckham take pains to show the distance between the public and private Mandela, a man who feels considerably more at ease pouring tea for a former enemy than communicating with his estranged wife and children. It is in precisely this gray zone that Freeman's performance, justly praised by former New York Times South Africa correspondent Bill Keller as "less an impersonation than an incarnation," grows large. He manages to play one of history's great men without ever losing sight of the fact that he is, as one of Mandela's bodyguards describes him in the film, "not a saint. He's a man, with a man's problems."
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