Last week I was invited to attend a private screening of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. It definitely had a much bigger impact on me since Nelson Mandela had passed away on December 5th. Despite the mixed reviews, I enjoyed the film though I thought it was the actors who mainly held it up.
Starring Idris Elba as the title character and Naomie Harris as his second-wife Winnie, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a biographical film that chronicles the early life of Nelson Mandela as well as his education, 27 years in prison during the anti-apartheid movement, and eventual inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
Let me start off with the cast. I thought Idris Elba was fantastic as Mandela and I’m glad he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. Let’s be frank, he doesn’t look much like Mandela at all, at least not as much as Morgan Freeman. However, it is Mandela’s embodiment and spirit that he captured which made him so believable, not to mention his impressive mastery of a South African accent. His makeup used to portray his gradual aging was not exactly the best though. Naomie Harris also gave a great and gritty performance as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and she definitely portrayed her character’s development over the years very accurately. This was emphasized as well by Elba who perfectly portrayed his appall to what her anger had led her to become.
Unfortunately, I thought the film felt too rushed at times and tried to cram as much of Nelson Mandela’s life into a nice little package. However, trying to include practically all of the major life events of such a legendary man leads to a crowded film that feels long and doesn’t do much justice to the important events depicted. The film clocks in at 139 minutes, which is not too bad, but it makes the fatal flaw of allowing the audience to realize how long it is. It could have ended in several places earlier than it did because I found myself often thinking that it was going to end, but then the film would suddenly turn to another quick scene. Also this is random, but I did not think the frequent scenes in the beginning that showed Mandela’s womanizing ways were really necessary.
Though there were some flaws, the film is very moving. I had goosebumps in several scenes, mainly due to the performances but also to the realization that the events actually happened. The added bits of humor here and there also made a huge difference in several intense scenes. If anything, and I know I already mentioned the length of the film, more time could have been spent on some background of apartheid since the film simply dives right into it. I recommend the film, especially to those who do not know much about the life of Nelson Mandela; however, it might not be worth seeing in theaters.
ALL IN ALL: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a powerful film with moving performances from its two leads, but it fails in trying to cram as much as possible about the life of a legendary man.
Rated PG-13, 139 minutes