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article imageReview: ‘Mandela — Long Walk to Freedom’ is a difficult road Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 28, 2013 in Entertainment
‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ recounts Nelson Mandela's journey from his childhood in a rural village to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
A Nelson Mandela biopic could not be released at a more opportune time with the South African leader's recent death and the hordes of people around the world eager to learn about his life. Many may be unaware of the blemishes in his past, but Mandela: Long Road to Freedom does not aim to shield them from the truth; rather, it paints a comprehensive picture of a man who made history.
Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) was destined for greatness, but his road to distinction was a varied path. Leaving his village to gain an education, he became a lawyer fighting on behalf of blacks in white courtrooms. When he realized the battle was too enormous to conquer alone, he responded to the African National Congress' (ANC) invitation to join. Mandela became the face of the organization, rallying people to protest and demand equality. When peaceful resistance failed, they turned to terrorism for which ANC's leaders were eventually jailed. After 26 years of incarceration, Mandela negotiated their release and simultaneously altered the country's history by paving the way for "one man, one vote."
The one element of Mandela's personality Elba unquestionably captures is his charisma. The passion for his cause and the love for his country radiate from his eyes. The ANC coveted his membership because he had the ability to inspire people to action. But he didn't only use his power for democracy. Mandela was a ladies man. He married an associate's daughter but cheated with his female admirers regularly. Winnie Madikizela (Naomie Harris) was his second wife, whom he met while still married to his first. She, of course, is painted as his ideal match because she has the same ideals. Moreover she led the movement when Mandela was imprisoned, essentially building a militia. This film tells the story of her struggle and rise to power nearly as well as it does his.
While it's impossible to squeeze all the meaningful moments of a person's life into a single film, this narrative tries its best. At 140 minutes, it may be too earnest in its efforts. The first hour concludes with Mandela’s imprisonment while the majority of the second occurs during it. His most memorable and arguably valuable contributions are related in the final 30 minutes. It would be difficult to select the parts of the film to cut or condense, but it seems a necessary exercise to make the picture more accessible. Filmmakers could begin with the obvious lulls.
As noted, Elba is outstanding as Mandela. While his previous TV and big screen roles have been noteworthy, this performance showcases the scope of his talents. He is transformed into a determined young man in his 20s and aged to a relentless political activist in his 70s. Yet he is sometimes outshined by Harris who portrays Winnie with confidence and inner strength that establishes her as a force to be reckoned with at home and on the battlefield.
Though it's both long and incomplete, this is a stirring portrait of a man worth knowing.
Director: Justin Chadwick
Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris and Tony Kgoroge
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