Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Directed By: Justin Chadwick

Starring: Idris Elba and Naomie Harris

We lost a global icon this year.  With the passing of Nelson Mandela several weeks ago, we should celebrate this legendary leader's accomplishments and honor his legacy.  As it turns out, Hollywood is doing just that in their own way this awards season.  Though not the means to combat poverty or eradicate social injustice, the biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is the means by which another generation can get acquainted with the tale of Madiba and how he changed the world.  Honestly, a film like this couldn't be timelier.

Because of oppression by a white minority, the black people of South Africa are ready to take their freedom.  As such, the African National Congress (ANC) forms to stand up against the unjust South African government.  In the decades that followed, Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) a young attorney who witnesses these injustices on the ground, gets involved with the cause.  Though furious with the unjust system, he realizes that he is only one man.  Together with others across the country, he can change the country.  With this in mind, Mandela joins the ANC and leads a number of protests in South Africa.  During this time, he divorces his ex-wife and weds Winnie Mandela (Naomie Harris).

The South African government does not take too kindly to the protests that are raging throughout the nation.  The scared white minority in power opts to use military force to quell these protests, but violence begets violence.  When the government kills hundreds of unarmed black men, women, and children, Mandela and the ANC opt to take different tactics with the government and form a military wing known as the Spear of the Nation.  They begin bombing government facilities to get leaders' attention.  Now branded a terrorist, Mandela goes on the run.  Eventually captured, he is put on trial for his "crimes" against the government and sentenced alongside his ANC comrades to life in prison.  The next 27 years will serve as the formative years for the father of the nation.

Though unexpectedly timely, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom plays like most political dramas.  Director Justin Chadwick ambitiously tries to tell the tale of this legendary leader in just two short hours and some change.  In doing so, he primarily focuses on Mandela's 27 years in prison and how Nelson and his wife Winnie grew apart during that time.  Before he delves into this though, Chadwick shows that Nelson and Winnie are of the same ilk by showing the social injustices in South Africa and the brewing race wars through which these two lived together.  He shows how the white supremacist policy of apartheid tore the moral fabric of the country apart with the world watching.  This is certainly well-intentioned and serves as the means to introduce us to the young, fiery lion in Nelson Mandela that preceded the gentle giant.  However, he rushes through this portion of Mandela's history.  Time constraints shouldn't be a concern when telling a rich story of this nature and significance.  He should have focused on this part of the history a bit more.

Nonetheless, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a good film that centers on outstanding performances from its stars Idris Elba and Naomie Harris as Nelson and Winnie Mandela respectively.  For his part as the former South African President, Idris Elba really delves into the man behind the global leader.  What's interesting is that his performance is defined by how he shows his anger.  While portraying a younger Mandela who's a revolutionary in the ANC, Elba lets loose and shows us a growing fury that builds throughout his time as a lawyer and culminates in his early years on Robben Island in prison.  From there, he shows us a man educated by his life experiences who then has the wisdom to hide his anger even when provoked.  Full of nuance and a range of emotions, Elba's performance as Mandela is really masterful.

For her part as Winnie Mandela, Naomie Harris is equally captivating on screen.  At first, we get a happy young woman in love.  As Mandela begins his time at Robben Island, we see a strong black woman emerge on screen.  After torturous imprisonment and a lifetime of her own trials and tribulations, Harris gives us a hardened rebel who will fight for her freedom by any means necessary.  It's a stark contrast from the gentle giant Elba's Mandela becomes and arguably a more compelling performance than the respectful one offered by Elba.

It's a little surreal that Mandela passed away around the time this movie was premiering.  In fact, one of Mandela's daughters learned of his passing at the film's premiere in London.  As it stands, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a solid film that serves as just another reminder to the world of Nelson Mandela's incredible legacy.  Fueled by strong performances by Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, the Mandela biopic gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.