One of the greatest icons of the twentieth century, Nelson Mandela is also one of the most popular personalities to capture on screens both big and small.
Yet while most of the films including the Clint Eastwood helmed Invictus take only a small piece of his life to examine under the cinematic microscope and likewise use an everyman (or woman) outsider narrative angle that turns Mandela into a supporting character we see through the eyes of another, director Justin Chadwick took his cues for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom directly from the man himself.
An ambitious and thorough biopic helmed by the Other Boleyn Girl filmmaker, Mandela employs a gorgeously old-fashioned epic approach to the subject complete with a framing device that brings a dream of the leader’s full circle, mirroring the same sequence in the film’s open and close.
Serving up a technically superb adaptation of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Mandela takes viewers on the freedom fighter’s journey from lawyer to imprisoned rebel all the way up through his presidency upon his release after a staggering twenty-seven years behind bars.
An unflinching look at South African apartheid and the political, radical and societal unrest that lasted for several decades before Mandela became instrumental in bringing everyone together to help South Africa heal by forgiving those who had imprisoned him for so long, Idris Elba does a remarkable job bringing the leader to life.
Playing against (or in spite of) their differences in physicality and nationality, Elba does more than just mimic Mandela’s unforgettable cadence. Embodying the spirit of the man in a charismatic, powerful performance, Mandela reminds viewers once again what an enormously talented character actor we have in Elba given the range of roles he’s taken on thus far in his impressive career.
And matching him scene for scene is an absolutely stellar Naomie Harris whose turn as Winnie Mandela really opens our eyes to just how much she endured in a battle that (although nowhere near as cinematically well-documented as her husband’s) was trying on a number of different levels as the essentially single mother was tormented and arrested by the police again and again.
This emotionally exhausting experience which along with the nearly three decade long absence of her husband from her daily life undoubtedly helped explain how much they’d both changed by the time that he was released after so many years apart.
Although Chadwick’s production is a bit lengthy and there are some vague introductions to individuals in the briskly paced, slightly confusing first act that would become key players in Mandela’s life later on that should’ve been better clarified in the script and/or final cut, overall it’s a wonderful achievement by Chadwick, cinematographer Lol Crawley and the film’s extraordinary ensemble cast.
While the Oscar nominated original song “Ordinary Love” by U2 is lackluster and overly familiar (in other words, befitting of its title), it’s a shame that more attention wasn’t paid to the rest of the film and in particular the incredible supporting work by Harris during 2013’s overcrowded award season.
But thankfully now that the Weinstein Company title has been transferred into a breathtaking Blu-ray combo pack release complete with an Ultraviolet HD digital copy as well as a DVD, Mandela’s Long Walk won’t remain overlooked for long.
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