Review: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
A lengthy account of the life of activist and idealist Nelson Mandela, from his times as a young lawyer fighting for the rights of individuals to his rise as a leader of a culture and a nation, even while threatened, coerced, and imprisoned.
Idris Elba is most impressive and imposing as Nelson Mandela, while the comparably important role of his wife Winnie is undertaken by Naomie Harris, equally worthy.
As it turned out, this expansive and impressively-acted biography of a most important global figure comes not long after his tragic passing, which for better or worse, sort of alters the standards, expectations, and perhaps reception.
Indeed, watching this film from British director Justin Chadwick shortly after the death of Nelson Mandela makes it a curious experience, but to the credit of Chadwick and actor Idris Elba, the story they craft is captivating and informative, though far from perfect.
They undertake a tough task; that is, trying to capture the busy life of such a key and complex figure in 20th century civil rights and politics. It is a long journey, yes, and at times it feels so with a nearly two-and-a-half hour running time, but there is something about watching a proud and purposeful man sit through the injustice and pain of jail that makes it hard to criticize a film for at times feeling laborious.
While what Mandela has accomplished is of the utmost significance, regard, and truly unparalleled, this paragon is giving a worthy though flawed film to tell a portion of his tale. The troublesome moments of the film are those typical to biopics, as there is simply too much to cover, but the tone stays mostly consistent throughout, esteeming a man while still demonstrating some of his less admirable traits.
Adapted from Mandela’s biography, Chadwick doesn’t avoid detailing his adultery and marital problems – he was married three times – as well as the conflicts in ideology he had with those closest to him. Mandela also refuses to make melodramatic or glossy the horrific and unjust fates that so many had to endure, especially with a sudden shift to the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, where police officers opened fire on civilians, gunning down and killing 69.
These moments are handled with confidence and care, and make for many emotionally telling moments. Chadwick is at his best when he simply lets the narrative play out; the story of Mandela doesn’t need to be dramatized, it’s compelling enough as it is. Elba commands every moment with purposeful mannerisms and a voice that is recognizable and potent.
In all, it doesn’t hold up against some of the brilliance that has been released ahead of awards season, but it’s a competent and respectable entry to help chronicle the life of a man and legend.
Should You See It?
A timely and worthy portrayal of the life of a complicated and important man, Mandela might not be at the top of the list of things to see this winter, but it’s on it.