Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom Review

By: Anthony Zangrillo

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is a biographical movie of the great Nelson Mandela. This movie chooses to explore more about the man behind the symbol of the leader who led the black citizens of South Africa to freedom. In an attempt to humanize this great leader, a love story between Nelson and his second wife, Winnie Mandela, is depicted within the movie.

Before I begin my analysis, it should be pointed out that this movie has been in production for a very long time. Originally Morgan Freeman was attached to the Mandela role in a version of this movie, but it never came to fruition, since it seemed impossible to condense Mandela’s complex life into a single movie. Freeman still portrayed Mandela in Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” and was terrific in the role.

The movie begins in an intriguing way by presenting us with Mandela’s participation in a Xhosa tribal ritual of adulthood. As we see Mandela transition into manhood, we are ready to follow him on his arduous journey to freedom. Cinematographer Lol Crawley did an excellent job at bringing us into the South African fields, as the audience gazes upon the children running through the fields to a tribal song. The imagery present in Mandela’s transformation to adulthood will re-appear during his most trying times to re-ignite him to continue his important mission. Some may complain that there is too much saint-like and savior imagery being put on the screen from the beginning of the story, yet I think it does add another layer to the depiction and is constantly kept in check by Elba’s performance.

Idris puts in a career performance as Mandela, and I would not be surprised if it earns him an Oscar nomination. He is able to accurately depict the changing states of mind that Mandela expressed throughout his life. In the beginning, Idris keeps the youthful Mandela mortal by demonstrating a carefree demeanor in the South African nightclubs. The audience will witness a change in Mandela from a man sick of the inequality in South Africa, to a rebel jailed for acts of sedition, and finally a fortifying leader, uniting his people for the cause of freedom.

Most of the second act centers around Mandela’s 27-year prison term, the majority of which was spent on Robben Island. I was shocked to learn that it was filmed in the actual location of the former prison. I think that Chadwick should have gone for a more realistic look in these scenes, rather than adopting a Hollywood movie-like set with special lighting.

Naomi Harris, as Winnie Mandela, comes close to matching Elba’s performance. Harris does a wonderful job of portraying the very politically complex wife of Nelson Mandela. From early on, she is devoted to the cause but somewhere along the way, she adopts a more militant stance on the evils of apartheid, advocating violence and revenge in order to attain freedom. This shift comes in uncompromising conflict with Nelson’s newfound policies of peace and forgiveness.

This movie has a running time of around two hours and fifteen minutes. I felt this could have been trimmed slightly, since it seems that the audience is rushed from one snapshot of Mandela’s life to another. These pacing problems would have benefitted from slowing down a little bit, while cutting out some other aspects from the narrative. This problem is similar to other movies that depict the lives of world leaders, such as “Gandhi,” which try to cover every important aspect of the main subject’s life.

The message of learning to love rather than hate is at the heart of Mandela’s teachings, and the conclusion masterfully presents this lesson. Idris shines in the final moments as an older Mandela, sharing his wisdom earned from the experience gained throughout his life. The fact that “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” has been released is amazing in itself, and although there are some tone and pacing problems, Idris Elba and Naomi Harris’s strong performances more than makes up for these shortcomings.

I give this movie an 8/10.

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