Movie Review: Rise – The Siya Kolisi Story

It’s hard to believe we’re already staring down the next Rugby World Cup in France come September after our emphatic win over England in 2019. A hard-fought victory, almost as iconic as the 1995 drop-kick final on home soil, this crowning moment turned Siya Kolisi into an international figure and veritable superhero. Through Chasing the Sun and Rassie: The Official Film, the trophy’s guts-and-glory fairytale has been reframed from several perspectives, shifting from the maverick coach to his star captain for this documentary.

Rise: The Siya Kolisi Story is the story of the first black South African rugby captain. The biographical sports documentary rewinds to before Kolisi was world famous, back to his childhood in the Eastern Cape, to the time of Mandela’s release. Unpacking the sociopolitical climate, this documentary offers an honest chronicle of the challenges Kolisi faced growing up in poverty against the backdrop of a divided country. Tebogo Malope crafts a vivid reflection of Kolisi’s upbringing by way of dramatised cutaways and sequences as talent and a bit of luck eventually helped him secure a rugby scholarship to Grey High School.

Rising through the ranks as a player, getting better opportunities and honing his leadership skills, this fly-on-the-wall documentary offers a holistic and personal approach, tapping into family, relationships, setbacks and opportunities. A celebration of Kolisi’s achievements on the field, the rose-tinted spectacles are smashed in favour of a self-confessed dirty laundry list that borders on exploitative with some reassurance based on The Kolisi Foundation’s involvement. From his strained relationship with his father to rockier moments in his marriage, Rise: The Siya Kolisi Story does overshare… and regularly, possibly redoubling information already disclosed in his autobiography.

Instead of interviewing coaches, journalists and pundits to get their expertise and insights, the majority of interviews are with players, including: Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers and best friend, Scarra Ntubeni. Rise: The Siya Kolisi Story is more of a character study, trying to get the unfettered truth about one of our nation’s most inspirational figures. There are also a few leftfield interviews, including internationally-recognised DJ, songwriter and record producer Black Coffee as well as pastors from Hillsong.

rise siya kolisi story

“Green and gold? Sure. Just not today.”

Kolisi’s miraculous transformation from his hard-partying days to responsible husband and father is just as inspirational as his humble ascent to become a World Cup-winning Springbok captain. While there are hints at how this came about, this counselling or faith-based aspect is downplayed, possibly in a bid to bypass the loaded discussion or remain more mainstream-friendly. Unfortunately, it comes across as a missing puzzle piece in not fully leveraging this change to broach the ongoing conversation. His captaincy was a momentous occasion for South Africa and the documentary’s perspective shifts quickly from an unabashed portrait to become a landscape with a clever “loudspeaker” transition.

The switch is almost elegant as the film latches onto the 2019 World Cup run to coast over the finish line on a rousing note with the Siya Kolisi we know and love. It’s still a powerful sequence, in spite of its abundant coverage, but it does seem like a highlights reel from the 2019 World Cup has simply been tagged on to stretch Rise into a feature-length sports documentary. Thankfully, much like waving the star-spangled banner when you need to muster spirit, patriotic South Africans will welcome the gees.

Rise: The Siya Kolisi Story is open-handed, heartfelt and ultimately a triumph of the human spirit, even though the tone is a bit tabloid-orientated at times in the messier middle. The creative Rassie switcheroo into Chasing the Sun territory draws more attention to the coach’s absence, possibly in a bid to keep Rassie: The Official Film separate. Loosely inspired by I Am Bolt, the film is built around an event but the handshake is a bit clammy. Rise is an eye-opening, spirited and deeply personal biographical journey, which while entertaining and well-paced, does seem to work against itself at times.

The bottom line: Powerful

splingometer 6