From the moment the camera sweeps over a scene of two rugby teams in South Africa, playing on their school ball fields—the white kids on a lush grass expanse, the black kids on a scrubby wasteland—we know we are in for an artisan's look at the social scars Nelson Mandela inherited when he became president of the country in 1994. As Mandela, the astonishing Morgan Freeman inhabits the role, his bowed frame and halting steps a constant reminder of the man's 27 years in a cramped cell. The statesman's decision to use rugby to unite his splintered country was just one strategy of many in real life, but here it takes center stage as Eastwood, the consummate storyteller, makes a game—brutal and all but unfathomable to American audiences—an allegory for what tough, dirty work the business of nation building can be.
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