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What does Nelson Mandela do after becoming president of South Africa? He rejects revenge, forgives oppressors who jailed him 27 years for his fight against apartheid and finds hope of national unity in an unlikely place: the rugby field. Clint Eastwood named 2009's Best Director by the National Board of Review directs an uplifting film about a team and a people inspired to greatness. Morgan Freeman NBR's Best Actor Award winner and Oscar nominee for this role is Mandela, who asks the national rugby team captain Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Matt Damon and his squad to do the impossible and win the World Cup. Prepare to be moved--and thrilled.
After South Africa elected Nelson Mandela president, the racially divided country could've easily erupted into civil war. In Clint Eastwood's determinedly populist, yet heartfelt look back at that time, the director examines one of the more ingenious steps Mandela Morgan Freeman in a performance of sly charm took to prevent that from happening. Knowing that his country was set to host the Rugby World Cup in 1995, Mandela believed the national team could provide an example of reconciliation in action. Led by François Pienaar an unbelievably buff Matt Damon, the mostly white Springboks inspired devotion among Afrikaners and disgust among native Africans. Instead of changing their name or colors, Mandela encouraged them to win for the sake of their homeland. During the year leading up to the event, the team learns to work together as never before, just as Mandela's newly integrated security detail, a combination of cops and activists, finds a way to bridge their ideological differences. By the time of the big day, the poorly ranked Springboks are well equipped to hold their own against New Zealand's All Blacks so named for their uniforms, not their racial composition. Drawing from John Carlin's Playing the Enemy, Anthony Peckham's script takes its title, Latin for "unconquerable," from a British poem Mandela held close to his heart during the 27 years he spent in prison. If Damon's accent is more convincing, Freeman serves as the film's heart--and as a timely reminder that reconciliation is never easy, but that it will always trump revenge. --Kathleen C. Fennessy