The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Biopic of the late Nelson Mandela.

Directed by: Justin Chadwick
Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Terry Pheto, Tony Kgoroge

As a young man, Nelson Mandela (Elba) leaves his rural South African village for Johannesburg, where he becomes a lawyer, representing the city's poor blacks. Convinced by friends to join the political group ANC (African National Congress), he quickly rises through the ranks and leads a campaign of sabotage that makes him public enemy number one for the country's white ruling minority. Captured by the authorities, he is sentenced to life imprisonment. During his time in prison, Mandela's wife Winnie (Harris) campaigns for his freedom but her violent methods are diametrically opposed to her husband's peaceful philosophy.
The biopic is one of the most troublesome genres in cinema. While its literary equivalent, the biography, has the advantage of several hundred pages with which to tell its subject's story, in film you've got a maximum of three hours. It's for this reason that the best movies based on real life figures (eg. Lawrence of Arabia, Ed Wood) have narrowed their focus to a specific chapter of their protagonist's life. Attempting to cover a significant figure's entire life in a couple of hours is something of a no win situation. Unfortunately, this is the method favored by director Justin Chadwick and writer William Nicholson. An adaptation of Mandela's official autobiography, Long Walk might just as well have been adapted from the man's Wikipedia page.
This is life as a series of bullet points. The film moves so quickly and covers so much ground that we never get to know its subject and it seems afraid to ascribe any kind of personality to Mandela. Anyone who ever met the late South African remarked on what a unique sense of humor he possessed but there's little humor on display here. A lot more characterization is afforded to Winnie and the script pulls no punches in turning her into a villainous warlord. While Elba is very impressive, it's Harris who steals the show, utterly convincing as both the naive young woman infatuated with Nelson and the hate filled warmonger of later years. If it weren't for these two riveting performances, the film would be a slog but Elba and Harris command our attention. The pair, along with Twelve Years a Slave's star Chiwetel Ejiofor and director Steve McQueen, should feature heavily at next year's Oscars. The warcry could well be "The Black British are coming!"

Eric Hillis