Nelson Mandela, a man who changed the world and the way we see it, passed recently and the world has lost one of its’ idols. As an anti-apartheid activist, Mandela fought oppression of Blacks in South Africa. He also served as President of South Africa from 1994-1999 and was the first democratically elected man in South Africa. This man has an unparalleled story and now, his life has been turned into a film/biopic.
Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) was born in the village of Mvezo in Cape Province, South Africa. Originally born Rolihlahla (meaning “troublemaker” in Xholsa”), he changed his name to Nelson Mandela after spending much of his childhood as a ritualistic boy. When he was growing up, Mandela protested against the South African government with his friends and often caused a lot of trouble too. He was also one of the few black lawyers of the time and represented those who were unfairly accused. Mandela is shown getting around with women and being reckless in his younger years. Eventually, he settles down with Winnie (Naomie Harris) and weds her. Not long after that, Mandela is tried for crimes of conspiracy against the government and is sentenced to life imprisonment.
Following the trial, Mandela is shipped to Robben Island, where he is to serve his life imprisonment. While he remained positive inside his cell, the South African people grew weary of their government and reacted with violence. Winnie Mandela stood up for Nelson’s ideals and protested with peace, while also trying to get others to do the same. After serving 18 years in prison, Mandela was released and was allowed to return home. He was brought on to help end the apartheid in a manageable fashion and also helped with forming CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa). After that, he was the first democratically elected President of South Africa and helped reform his country.
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom attempts to chronicle Nelson Mandela’s life in its entirety. We watch him grow from his childhood, through his younger life, the time he spends in prison, and when he gets out and becomes the President of South Africa. Now, this should be an intriguing story that stimulates you throughout the duration of the film. I’m sorry to say, but this film is really boring and it drags on forever. Aside from two standout performances from the film’s leads, this film is not going to entice many people.
Idris Elba is the standout aspect of this film. From his South African accent, to his hours spent in the makeup room trying to look older, Elba fully immerses himself in the role and becomes an incarnation of Mandela. The legendary man’s wise words roll off of Elba’s tongue in a manner that makes you believe what you’re hearing. You get a great sense of who Mandela was and the ideals that he believed in and most of that is due to Elba. The suppression of frustration that Elba demonstrates in jail is amazing and when he finally gets back to his wife, he can’t take it anymore and it kills him inside. Idris Elba is such a pleasure to watch on the screen, it’s just the movie that doesn’t work.
Naomie Harris also does a great job in this film, but her performance isn’t on the same scale as Elba’s. Still, she carries a good portion of the film when Elba is in jail. Her struggle to free her husband and keep the people peaceful was a daunting task that she handled as best she could. You do learn a lot about what went on while Mandela was in jail, albeit in a short period of time. The beginning and end of the film also honor his memory, as they explore his origins and the latest time in his life. It’s a joy to see people rejoice when he is freed and to see the lasting effect that he’s had on South Africa. In that regard, the film did a great job.
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom may only be two-hours-and-nineteen-minutes, but it feels like the longest walk of your life. The pacing in this film is all wrong. Nelson Mandela has a truly unique and incredible story, but the film gets bogged down in a few events that transpire in his life. Rather than being an overview of his life, his struggle, and his work, the film decides to slowly build during his time in prison. There are many instances in the film that we aren’t spending with Mandela and that also slows things down. The bulk of the film focuses on what happened while Mandela was in prison and then when he’s released, the film is in a hurry to conclude. It’s just all wrong.
More than anything, you don’t get a huge sense of everything that this man accomplished. You’re told that he was important and that he helped South Africa, but you rarely see that. The film focuses so much time on his life in prison, that they practically neglect what was happening outside the walls of his confines. While he did become the first democratically elected president of South Africa, that comes at the end and it’s glossed over in a matter of minutes. The biggest life changing events are given very little screen time and the film tries to delve more into his personal turmoils. As Mandela ages, Elba’s and every other characters’ makeup gets increasingly worse. It’s not a huge issue, but it’s evident that they spent more time on makeup than they did with the story.
Nelson Mandela is one of the most important figures in the history of the world and this film does not capture that whatsoever. God bless Idris Elba for giving it his all in the role of Mandela. He and Harris are the only real redeeming qualities of this film and they’re the reason that people will enjoy it. If you’re looking for a great biopic or knowledgeable film about Nelson Mandela, look elsewhere (or on Wikipedia, from which this movie’s information likely came). I wish I could tell you that this film was good, but I wouldn’t any of you to take this long, long walk unless you really wanted to.
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom Trailer