James Canellos ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
With the passing of beloved leader Nelson Mandela earlier this month, the release of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom could not be a more timely tribute. While this film does have several faults as a whole, it serves as a great commemoration of a man who dedicated his life to improving the world and promoting peace. The biopic chronicles the events that set Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) on his journey from prisoner to president of South Africa, attempting to end the country’s crippling Apartheid acts.
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom was initially an autobiography written by Mandela himself, and screenwriter William Nicholson (Gladiator, Les Miserables) decided to adapt it for the big screen. Nicholson did a decent job but definitely could have tightened up the script a little bit. It is understandable that any writer wants to do justice to someone’s life story, especially someone who is still alive, but Nicholson and director Justin Chadwick really could have cut out some aspects of the story.
Any time the film was beginning to reach a tense dramatic climax, it felt rushed and the impact just was not as effective as it could have been. Tony Kushner’s approach to last year’s Lincoln would have been a good act to follow, since he decided to focus on the last four months of his presidency leading up the passing of the 13th Amendment instead of trying to fit in every aspect of Lincoln’s life. Or he could have looked to another Mandela movie, Invictus, which focused on the politician’s relationship with Rugby player Francois Pienaar.
This film would be better if it focused on Mandela when he was in prison or after his release- that is where Long Walk to Freedom really takes off. One of the film’s strengths is the way that it depicts Mandela’s life as a prisoner in both the physical and mental sense. He is forced to conceal his natural reactions and emotions to oppose the unjust prison system going on in South Africa at the time. Elba exceeds in these scenes, playing someone who is robbed of the chance to bring up his children and live a relatively normal life with his wife Winnie (Naomie Harris). These prison scenes show Mandela as tortured soul who has to sit back and watch as hope for his country diminished. Elba does not need the make-up, which was nicely subtle, to show Mandela’s growth and maturity. And Naomie Harris is able to hold her own with Elba as Winnie Mandela.
While Elba oozes confidence and delivers his lines with so much charisma, Harris goes for all or nothing intensity and captures the ferocity of the nation as her husband tries to do what he has been doing and conceal his own outraged self. Their first scenes together are very basic for any biographical film, but as the film moves forward, so does their direction of dysfunction. The film overall does not walk the best line of portraying Mandela as a flawed saint; any time they tried to show his frailties it felt unnatural within the narrative.
The archival footage and photographs were smoothly integrated into the film and looked great. The filmmakers also created a subtle yet noticeable range of different types of prison settings Mandela was in. They acted as a metaphor for the changing conditions going on in the fight to end Apartheid. Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom acts as an okay starting point for what will inevitably be a slew of biography films about Mandela’s life.
This addition felt like it was trying too hard to be the next Gandhi in the way it tried to cover every little aspect. A more condensed version could have really improved the story that people should already know. Idris Elba saves the day with his excellent portrayal of the icon and is the sole reason you should see this film. He honors the man who Mandela was and challenges other actors out there to try to embody the spirit of the great and powerful leader.
Overall Grade: B-