A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The movie has an uplifting message about how Mandela led South Africans by example by rooting for a nearly all-white rugby team to foster national unity. Mandela's love of the poem "Invictus," which he had up in his prison cell and later gives to the captain of the rugby team, means "unconquered" in Latin and has an inspiring message: "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." Themes also include compassion and integrity.
Positive Role Models
Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela is portrayed as a kind, open-hearted leader who wants to help South Africa heal the deep wounds caused by apartheid. Mandela understands how the rugby team, once a bastion of segregated South Africa, could turn into a beacon of new South Africa. Francois Pienaar is willing to work with Mandela, even at a time when many white South Africans were resistant to Mandela's leadership. He encourages his teammates to acknowledge the new South African anthem and to reach out to the black majority.
Violence & Scariness
Rioting footage early in the movie includes destruction and injuries; a dead boy is seen .Rugby is a pretty violent sport; hard contact shown in some scenes. An angry white South African throws a soda cup in the vicinity of President Mandela. In another scene, Mandela is shown collapsed on the floor.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Francois kisses and hugs his wife a couple of times, and the night she visits him before a big match, he says they "can't" but that he needs her for "inspiration," and then they start kissing. A presidential guard flirts with Mandela's secretary.
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The rugby team occasionally swears (though considerably less than you'd imagine professional athletes cursing) -- one "f--king" and a couple of "s--t"s is the worst of it. Otherwise, the strongest words are "bastard," "freakin'," "crap," and "damn."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this fact-based Clint Eastwood-directed drama (which stars Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman) is an uplifting movie that's age appropriate for older tweens and young teens -- the PG-13 rating is primarily for language (one use of "f--king" and a couple of "s--t"s are the worst of it). Because of its narrow focus -- the movie follows President Nelson Mandela's decision to rally support behind South Africa's nearly all-white national rugby team -- there's little violence aside from an early riot (which does show a dead boy) and the rugby itself, which is quite physically aggressive). And Damon's character kisses his wife, but there's nothing more risque than that. Ultimately the movie is both educational and inspiring, providing an excellent lesson about post-apartheid South Africa, national unity, compassion, and the universality of sports. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Freeman is a revelation as Mandela. Inspirational sports movies have a tendency to be full of overwrought dialogue and sappy, swelling music accompanying the athletic competition. Eastwood's genius is that even though there's enough of both here (including dramatic recitations of the titular poem, which means "unconquered"), the film never feels bogged down by sentimentality. It's difficult to imagine any other actor playing the iconic leader, and Freeman doesn't disappoint. With every nod, walk, and smile, Freeman fully transforms into the Nobel Peace Prize winner -- his lovingly executed performance is reason enough to see this historically accurate film. Damon packed on muscle to play the barrel-chested Francois, although he couldn't do anything to approach the real Pienaar's considerable height. Most American audiences won't know whether Damon nailed the South African accent, but at least it stays consistent, as do his rugby moves, for which Damon trained extensively.
There's not much scene-stealing from Damon; he seems content to let Freeman and the game of rugby set the tone. One particularly memorable scene shows how the players react to Francois handing out the words to the new South African anthem (one of them calls it a "terrorist song," and several crumple up the paper). And despite the movie's serious themes, there's a surprising amount of humor, usually in the form of Mandela's integrated personal security force -- the black guards don't even know how to follow rugby: "What just happened?" one asks, "They scored!" says a white guard. The black and white guards are wary of each other at first, but by the end of the movie, they're all playing rugby and picking on each other. No doubt it took more than rugby to overcome the deep fissures caused by apartheid in South Africa (if they've been overcome at all), but in this movie, love of rugby and of a new nation go beautifully hand in hand.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.