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Hansie

2009-01-20 09:11
 
As the last word on South Africa’s most tragic sporting hero, it’s a shame that Hansie doesn’t make the most of its time at the crease.
What it's about:

It’s the story that sent shockwaves through the nation. South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje, one of the most beloved public figures in the country during the 90s, becomes public enemy number one when he admits to accepting bribes from Indian bookmakers. Rejected and humiliated, Cronje is subjected to widespread criticism and faces his toughest test as he takes the road from shame and despair to forgiveness and redemption.

What we thought of it:

Throughout this movie, I kept asking myself: "Why has this been made?". The wounds from Hansiegate might still be fresh in the cricketing world, but elsewhere, in shacks and suburbs alike, the rest of us have moved on. Perhaps we have done so without the passion we once shared for cricket, but the whole sordid affair doesn’t seem to keep anyone up at night anymore. Except Frans Cronje, that is.

Hansie is the story of South Africa’s most tragic sporting hero, told by his brother Frans, who also produced the film. It must have been tempting to take liberties with the facts but Dr Ali Bacher, head of the United Cricket Board at the time, has praised the film for its "staggering" accuracy. Given the thin national appetite for the subject, this film can and should open the final debate of where Cronje fits into the great South African story.

Yes, the film does portray how Cronje let the whole country down. But the film offers such a broad view that it strips the tale of its moral ambivalence, and the personal complexity that pushed a man to his ruin. How Hansie Cronje went from demi-god, to pathetic villain, to object of national pity after his untimely death is obviously a Hollywood-sized story: there’s no reason he couldn't be a South African James Dean. Instead, Cronje is unflinchingly portrayed as a good guy, a patriot who just lost his concentration when Satan… ahem, the Indian bookmakers, came a-calling.

Frank Rautenbach's star turn as Cronje has its moments: there's definitely something of the Hope of Bloemfontein's manner in his winning smiles and tearful confessions on screen. But without the support of a stronger script and supporting cast, the spell is often broken. The result: Rautenbach is reduced to a pretty face in a helmet.

The casting of American actress Sarah Thompson (of Cruel Intentions 2 fame) as Bertha Cronje is baffling. Having secured top billing from the "undesirable" local talent, she proceeds to mangle a range of foreign dialects, a lá Leo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond, in a badly coached attempt to mimic the local vernacular. It’s not all her fault: in Bertha Cronje, South African cinema has one of its most one-dimensional characters ever - a servile Stepford wife only too happy to fawn over an emotionally unavailable, dishonest husband. Of course, caricatures like these exist in real life, but one feels that with more nuance, this is a story that could approach massive relevance for a curious South African public.

Nothing is held back in terms of cinematography, and in this department at least Hansie is among the slickest productions ever made in Mzansi. Elaborate tracking shots, painstaking slow motion camerawork and quality lighting set a high standard that other budget-stricken local productions should aspire to.

In the end, Frans Cronje's script finds it raison d'être in forcing us to consider why the new South Africa has chosen sports stars as its most valuable ambassadors, while demonstrating just how easy it is to slip on a pair of rose-tinted glasses when our national heroes fall from grace.

A look behind the scenes of Hansie

- Niel Bekker

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