Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (2014)

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (2014)

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He had just realised that he hadn't been able to cancel the apocalypse.
He had just realised that he hadn’t been able to cancel the apocalypse.

Twitter Plot Summary: The entire life of Nelson Mandela crammed into a 2 hour 20 minute run time. Something’s got to give, right?

Five Point Summary:

1. Is it politically incorrect for black men to “white up”?
2. Ooh, he’s feisty, is young Mandela.
3. Prison. Tiny cell.
4. Yay, they get to wear trousers!
5. Justice. To a fashion.

The announcement of Mandela’s death seemed to happen at the most opportune of moments, during the premiere of the latest blockbuster film covering his life. The cynic in me says it was all a bit too convenient, almost designed to build up more interest in the project. That is of course a ridiculous notion, however I can’t help conjuring up the occasional conspiracy theory. Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom covers his life from a young child all the way up to his inauguration as president of South Africa.

If anything it tries to cover too much in too short a period of time – certain key parts of Mandela’s life are covered in a whirlwind, almost blink and you’ll miss them because it’s already moved on to the next important historical event. There’s less of the man himself and more lip service to modern history as people understand it, but it’s otherwise a solid story. Mandela grows up and joins the ANC, seemingly after realising his career in law would not generate the appropriate level of change, he takes part in a spate of terrorist attacks that wind up with him locked away in prison for 27 years. This early-years Mandela is the most interesting part of the movie, most likely due to the extensive media coverage given to Mandela in his later years. This young Mandela is a bit of a maverick, and seeing some more of his life during this period would be interesting to watch.

The performances from Idris Elba as Mandela and Naomi Harris as his wife Winnie are very strong, as you would hope from actors of their calibre. Elba is course the focal point, although as Mandela ages in the film it becomes more and more obvious to my moderately young eyes that Elba looks nothing like the South African. That said, it only takes you out of the film for a moment, as again it’s worth reiterating that the performance from Elba is a strong one. There’s also a fair bit given to Naomie Harris, although she isn’t portrayed in the kindest light.

Her impression of wrestler "Big Daddy Cool" Diesel was massively appreciated by the crowd.
Her impression of wrestler “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel was massively appreciated by the crowd.

Once again that little indignant voice inside me decided to speak up, again at the injustice of persecution on the basis of race and skin colour. Without jumping on the soap box again, as I am wont to do on occasion, I can’t apportion any blame to the attempts at introducing a fair and balanced system in South Africa, although as I have stated previously in my review of La Haine, violence begets violence, a lesson we all could learn from.

Other than the whistle stop tour of history via the life of Nelson Mandela, there is little to complain about. Perhaps it would have been better suited to focusing on a specific portion of his life rather than cover every detail in broad strokes, but then when you’re adapting an incredibly long book for the screen (in the region of 600-odd pages) sacrifices have to be made. I read elsewhere that the adaptation would work better as a TV mini series along the same lines as Game of Thrones. I’d agree with that sentiment as. Mandela’s life was full of interesting events that deserve time to be told in full. But that’s for TV – as a movie with no specific focus other than Mandela himself, this is likely the best we’ll get.

Score: 4/5

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