The film allows Eastwood to cast a major white actor alongside Freeman
Back in 2008, acclaimed black director Spike Lee accused Clint Eastwood of not having enough black actors in his films. Eastwood had made two movies about Iwo Jima back to back and not a single black soldier was featured in either, Lee noted. Eastwood's response? "A guy like him should shut his face," he told The Guardian. He then went on to direct Gran Torino, a film about an elderly, racist man, who learns to overcome his racial prejudices. That film, which is actually Eastwood's finest after Unforgiven, appeared to be a response to Lee's allegations.
It's in this context that Eastwood's latest, a biopic of South African legend Nelson Mandela, arrives. Why we haven't seen a major Hollywood Mandela biopic up until now is baffling. After all, some far less important and obscure people have had films of their lives made. Perhaps marketers did not think they could find a way to sell the story?
We get some clues about this by examining the film's poster. There's a smiling Matt Damon in the foreground, with Morgan Freeman (as Mandela) literally in the shadows. The film is about Mandela, but from the angle of how he embraced forgiveness as a mantra and how he moved to heal his divided nation through sport, particularly the white-dominated sport of rugby. It's a convenient angle for Eastwood, for sure. The film allows him to cast a major white actor alongside Freeman, and to follow the issue of apartheid South Africa through the vehicle of a feel good sports movie.
The film does work. There are some great performances and funny moments. But all in all it is somewhat pedestrian. Eastwood clearly has no gift when it comes to filming sports sequences. He does not belittle his subject matter, but he does it no special favors. But at least he got this film made, where others have failed. Even if it was not quite the fine Nelson Mandela biopic we were expecting.
Neither was Guy Ritchie's entertaining take on Sherlock Holmes. There's a spunk and energy here that replaces the tired old period piece action/adventure crap that's come out in recent years. That said, there's nothing really original. But Robert Downey Jr is ridiculously charming, even with his road-kill eyes and weird British accent.
Much fuss was made over the suggestions of a strong whiff of homoeroticism in his relationship with Watson (Jude Law in his best performance since The Talented Mr Ripley). The fuss was justified. Half of the movie is about their relationship.
I can't remember what the plot was about, and at times I found myself craving for some of the moodiness of a film like From Hell (which starred Johnny Depp). The fight scenes were rather paltry (though wonderfully analysed by Sherlock in slo-mo before each takes place) and there was no real ratiocination (the 'clues' are all perfunctorily linked in the denouement). But it's fun.