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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

There doesn't seem to be a lot of love out there for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. And I say, come on, it's not a bad movie. It just falls short of what it could have been, is all. Okay, by quite a distance. That doesn't make it terrible. It has its redeeming qualities.

Would I recommend it? Sure . . . on Netflix, maybe. You don't need to go rushing out to theatres to see this. Not that I need to tell you, or anyone, really: I was one of four people in the screening I went to.

Never mind the unnecessarily long full title, this Mandela suffers the same major flaw as The Butler: it crams far too much of one man's life into one movie, stripping it of any real depth. The acting is competent and the story is engaging, but when we're spanning multiple decades and including every major event possible, there's never any chance to let the weight of the proceedings sink in.

One thing Mandela does better than The Butler is the casting of its supporting roles -- no stunt casting with distractingly famous faces here. But if Mandela is not as corny, neither is it as moving -- it just takes a sort of middle-of-the-road approach to its overtly conventional storytelling that leaves the film a tad inert. These are real-life events of serious, global import, and they barely tug the heartstrings, in spite of a score clearly intended to be emotionally manipulative.

Idris Elba commands attention onscreen as Nelson Mandela, but his charisma and gravitas still falls short of the actual man he's attempting to embody. Doing justice to a man so widely beloved is no easy task, though, and Elba makes a commendable attempt. Naomie Harris holds up well opposite him as Winnie, who is shown to have been harassed and imprisoned more than probably many Americans realize. She didn't spend 27 years in prison like Nelson did, but she had her own struggle.

It's a relief, at least, that director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) took care not to depict either of these people as saints. Especially in the wake of Nelson Mandela's recent death, it's easy to fall into the trap of revisionist history when it comes to the widely revered. But Mandela was estranged from a first wife, with whom he had other children; and Winnie was more interested in expressing vengeful anger toward the South African white establishment than Nelson was.

For anyone with only a cursory knowledge of Nelson Mandela's life, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom offers some fascinating information, much of it confirmed as drawn from real events with the use of historic photos and video footage.

Mandela did indeed pull off an extraordinary feat by moving South Africa forward into a better, integrated nation post-Apartheid. This movie would have been better served by focusing, perhaps, on that one part of his life. Chadwick bites off more than he can chew by attempting to present Mandela's life from youth all the way to his presidency, but at least he offers some palatable flavor. Mandela is never boring, it's just superficial, skimming the surface of everything shown. It's elevated slightly by some evocative cinematography and by Elba's performance.

Idris Elba and Naomie Harris keep it together in MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM.

Overall: B
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