(In theaters, December 2009) Perhaps the boldest chance taken with this film is the concept of slowly transforming a political thriller into a sports film. Picking up moments after Nelson Mandela’s 1994 election as the first post-Apartheid South African president, Invictus goes from nation-building drama to underdog sport film in steady increments, placing more and more weight on sports until political issues becomes subordinate to the results of a rugby tournament. Fortunately, the film is made by skilled technicians: security issues are used as a way to peek into racial reunification, the legend of Nelson Mandela gets a polish, and we’re shown a nation uniting behind a national sports team. It’s all curiously enjoyable: The South-African setting and accents are different enough to keep us interested (although I couldn’t help wishing for a big spaceship to appear over Johannesburg), there are plenty of misleading thriller cues (one of them leading up to a thrilling CGI flyby), Morgan Freeman is mesmerizing as Mandela (think “role of a career”), Matt Damon is unexpectedly convincing as a rugby player and Clint Eastwood’s direction is as coolly efficient as always. Even the clichés (such as more and more slow-motion segments as the game gets closer to completion) and the unequal pacing don’t look as bad when dealt by such experienced hands. For all of its calculated humanity, Invictus does get viewers to feel better about sports, films and mankind in general, which has its own attraction especially in the usual field of Oscar-baiting films.