Nelson Mandela has quite a beautiful story behind him and it was a sad day when he passed. In Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom we get a chronological look at his life, with brief glimpses over key events that transpire. Those glimpses include his early life, his education and time as a lawyer, all the way to the 27 years he spent in prison before he goes on to become the South African President and rebuild a segregated society. The film starts with Mandela as a young lawyer who has an attitude about him. But we see his flaws right away. He cheats on his first wife, doesn’t pay attention to his infant son, and drinks and smokes like crazy. But it is in these first glimpses of Mandela, that the film takes off. This is when it moves at the fastest pace.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t move at the same pace. If you don’t know the full story of Nelson Mandela, then you should do yourself a favor and educate yourself. What he did was extremely important and should be common knowledge to everyone. Disgusted by the death of a drunk man in the custody of the police, he becomes involved in the ANC fight against apartheid. He travels between many different houses, avoiding capture; after burning his identity papers. He even goes on to say an awesome line “We no longer accept the authority of a state that wages war on its own people.” This is all before he eventually gets arrested and put in jail for 27 years of his life.
This story is told in chronological order so it has a very straightforward path. But I can’t help but think this would have worked better as a mini series or maybe a 6 episode stint on HBO. Because even though almost two and a half hours is a lot of time; it isn’t nearly enough to tell his full story. And you can see that in this movie because it goes through these events of Mandela’s life so fast that it doesn’t take the time to dwell on anything. There is no breathing room. They had to force so much content in that there wasn’t any room to really connect or feel anything. Of course you will feel things because you know who the man is and what he did. But it doesn’t have anything to do with the movie. They tried to do too much and that was what made this movie not work as well as it intended.
Idris Elba and Naomie Harris shine in this movie, despite its shortcomings. They are the stars. They make this movie watchable. This isn’t a bad movie, by any means. But it is very boring and hard to watch. And not hard to watch in the same way 12 Years a Slave was. That movie was hard because it made you feel things. This movie is hard because you don’t feel anything. Just a very long and slow movie as a whole. But Elba is near-perfect as Mandela, commanding a presence in every scene he is in. This is a role unlike anything he has done before. He has a screen presence but it isn’t the kind we are used to. It isn’t a strong and brooding role like his role of Stringer Bell in The Wire or even as the guy with the cool speech in Pacific Rim. He does less here and yet shows us more. Naomie Harris plays his second wife, Winnie, who ends up getting involved in the fight as well. Just with a different and more violent approach. She really surprised me in this movie. She has never really showed us a truly good acting performance. At least until now.
The first part was by far the most entertaining and the movie kept my interest, it just was hard to stay awake for. They rushed through Mandela’s life too quickly to really focus on anything important. I said it before and I will say it one last time; this would have worked as either two different movies, a mini series, or a 6 episode show on HBO. There are so many different ideas and events in this movie that you could probably make three different movies on; and I think it would have been better off going in that direction. But it is worth the viewing just for the history lesson and the amazing performances by the always fantastic Idris Elba and Naomie Harris.
WHAT I LIKED:
+: Idris Elba gave a powerful performance as Nelson Mandela. It isn’t as strong and commanding as his other roles. This was one is more understated and required a lot of him as an actor. He definitely shined and really shows how great of an actor he is.
+: Naomie Harris gave a great performance as well. A surprising idea to me, as I had only seen her in silly or fun roles like After the Sunset, Skyfall, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
+: The first half hour or so, where we really see the young Mandela and what drove him to join the fight against apartheid. It wasn’t as rushed and was the most entertaining part of the movie.
+: There are so many great events that it was nice to see on-screen from Mandela’s life….
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
-: ….but most of them were rushed, like the rest of the movie.
-: The music and overall tone of the movie just felt off to me. Almost like it was trying to go for a Blood Diamond tone with the music. It isn’t the same, but I got that overall vibe. The tone didn’t match what the source material entails, in my opinion.
-: It is overly long because it tries to cram everything. Almost fell asleep a couple of times and I wasn’t tired before the movie.
-: Doesn’t focus on any key event or message long enough for it to leave any lasting effect.