The work that stands as the best of Clint Eastwood's late-life career as a filmmaker approaches familiar storytelling formulas with maturity and experience, such as the revisionist Western masterpiece Unforgiven, or the singularly empathetic war film Letters from Iwo Jima.

The work that stands as the best of Clint Eastwood's late-life career as a filmmaker approaches familiar storytelling formulas with maturity and experience, such as the revisionist Western masterpiece Unforgiven, or the singularly empathetic war film Letters from Iwo Jima.

With Invictus, Eastwood moves into the arena of inspirational real-life sports dramas, through the story of South African president Nelson Mandela's efforts to heal the scars of apartheid through inspiring the country's rugby team to World Cup victory. But this time the filmmaker, and by extension his audience, lose their way.

Morgan Freeman is a natural choice for Mandela, and Matt Damon throws himself into the role of rugby captain Francois Pienaar, Mandela's man on the inside. Eastwood makes the symbolic import of their union as plain as the colors on the team's uniforms, a throwback to South Africa's apartheid-era flag.

In other areas, he fails by omission. Despite its basis in truth, the warming of relations between blacks and whites on screen lacks authenticity - it's a change of heart that seems to come from script demands. A bigger, nearly fatal flaw is the choice not to explain the basic rules of a game unfamiliar to most in the U.S. The result is a climactic final rugby match in which the only way you can tell what's happening is through an endless procession of reaction shots.