AFI Fest 2013: MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM Review

6.5

Film Pulse Score

mandela_long_walk_to_freedom
  • Save

Release Date: November 29, 2013 (Limited)
Director:
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Film Pulse Score: 6.5/10

What drives a man to fight for what he believes in?  Just how much is he willing to sacrifice for a cause?  What lengths are they willing to go to be heard?   What can one person do to provoke change?   These questions can be applied to just about any struggle that has occurred throughout recorded history.   It could be anyone from your average citizen to a high-profile public figure who may give people cause to ask those questions.  In South Africa one person did just that and caused a change that was seen and felt around the globe.   Justin Chadwick’s adaptation of Mandela’s autobiography titled Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom tells the story of how Nelson Mandela went from an idealistic lawyer to becoming the first president of post-apartheid South Africa.

Nelson Mandela was a successful lawyer who handily defended his clients.  White plaintiffs often found themselves losing cases because they felt it undignified to be addressed by a man of color even if he is a lawyer.   Mandela was also a ladies man and had a reputation of having many girlfriends but that all changed when he saw Winnie standing by the street.   Together they found themselves embroiled in a nearly fifty year long struggle to free South Africa and bring democracy to its people.

Directed by Chadwick and written by William Nicholson the film does have some problems.  For a biopic that covers so much time in a person’s life the unfortunate side effect of trying to fit it all in is that the film ends up feeling like the Cliff Notes version of the autobiography.  It hits all the key points and provides the necessary information to help move the film along but ultimately you don’t seem to really get a feel for the man.   Mandela’s story is little known and for many it wasn’t until he was freed and apartheid ended that he came to their attention.   Mandela goes through hell but not enough time is taken to address the how and why other than to say that it was the right and just thing to do.  Perhaps this is addressed in Mandela’s book but it doesn’t seem to be present here.   What drives a man to resort to violence?  What drives a man to become a revolutionary?  It would have been interesting to hear about that as opposed to just being told that’s how it was and that’s all that is needed to be known.

The film does feature a solid performance by Idris Elba as Mandela.  He does a fine job of embodying Mandela from his look, the mannerisms and even the accent.  He is consistently strong throughout the film and actually gets better as it progresses.   He probably gives the best on screen performance of the South African leader to date.   Naomie Harris is also quite good as Winnie.  She effectively portrays a woman who believes in her husband and is willing to fight for her people’s freedom.   The two of them together are very good and that is most evident later in the film.

Despite its flaws the film is a decent biopic that fortunately doesn’t feel like a glorified TV mini-series.   It uses broad strokes to tell its story but does just enough to convey the drama and gravitas of the moments.   While more introspection on Mandela’s part would have been preferred it does a good job of portraying what the man stood for and what he was fighting for.   It doesn’t attain the lofty heights that its subject achieved but it’s still an interesting and engaging 2 ½ hour look at an icon in world history.