Capsule reviews of films opening this week:
"Invictus" — Clint Eastwood's latest is a sports film less about what's on the playing field than what's happening in the stands. It's the story of South Africa's sea change under Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) told through the unlikely prism of sport. It comes off like a case study in leadership, perhaps a bit clinical and limited, but still deeply revealing. When Mandela takes office in 1994, he embraces the rugby national team, the Springboks, and seeks to turn a symbol of apartheid into a beacon of hope. It feels like destiny fulfilled hearing Freeman — who has long sought to play the role — speak Mandela's halting, humble speech. No one could be better. "Invictus" is dripping with inspiration, and Eastwood's extraordinary late period remains a good place to find it. With a blond, beefed-up Matt Damon as the rugby team's captain and one truly terrible song from a South African boy band. PG-13 for brief strong language. 132 minutes. Three stars out of four.
— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer
"The Lovely Bones" — Odd as it sounds, Peter Jackson needed to come down to Earth a bit more in his adaptation of Alice Sebold's best-seller about a murdered girl looking back on her life from beyond. The visionary filmmaker behind "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy still is in fantasy land, and the film suffers for it as Jackson crafts lovely but ineffectual dreamscapes of the afterlife that eviscerate much of the human side of the story. Saoirse Ronan leads an able cast chronicling her character's journey from sensitive 14-year-old schoolgirl to shattered soul stuck in a nether zone between earth and heaven. The images often are striking, but the spectacle Jackson creates distracts from the mortal drama of regret and heartache he's trying to tell. Rose McIver as Ronan's younger sister delivers a standout performance in a cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci. PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language. 135 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
"A Single Man" — This drama of grief and loss easily could have been one of those style-over-substance visual dazzlers, coming as it does from Tom Ford, the fashion designer who revived the house of Gucci. Yet with Colin Firth delivering a career performance that's pure elegance and heartache and Julianne Moore providing graceful support, the film works as engaging drama as well as the sumptuous collection of images you'd expect from first-time director Ford. Adapted from a Christopher Isherwood novel, the film gorgeously recreates 1960s design and decor, the production values so showy they could have overwhelmed this quiet story of a gay academic lamenting the death of his longtime lover. On-screen virtually the entire film, Firth is riveting, the vibrant charm of his work in "Bridget Jones's Diary" and other frothy romances easily co-existing with his character's melancholy as we follow him through a single day, which he intends to end by taking his own life, no longer able to go on without the love of his life. R for some disturbing images and nudity/sexual content. 99 minutes. Three stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
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