Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company
Justin Chadwick's "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" fits into the genre that could be called the Respectful, Reverent Biopic, but it's a solid example of such a film.

While this film, which chronicles the South African leader's early days as an attorney to his election as the president of his nation following 27 years of imprisonment, does not exactly break ground for its genre, it is wonderfully acted, often beautiful to look at and well-scripted.

Idris Elba ("The Wire") bares little resemblance to Nelson Mandela, but he disappears into the role all the same, painting a portrait of a complex man. And - similar to the biopic of Ray Charles - the movie takes a warts-and-all approach, showing not just Mandela's suffering at the hands of his oppressors and valiant work on behalf of his people, but also extramarital activities and political compromises.

Equally good is Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela, who eventually turns to guerilla tactics as her husband gradually begins the process of trying to unite South Africa by forgiving the oppressive government that imprisoned him.

In terms of a biopic, "Mandela" follows the standard route that we might expect of such a film, from the titular figure's early days as a lawyer to his involvement with the African National Congress, his arrest and trial, the decades spent in a tiny jail cell and, eventually, his release and rise to power. In other words, there are not too many surprises here.

On the other hand, the material is handled well and the film deftly injects documentary footage into its narrative. Also, the characters have a sense of depth due to the solid work by the cast and the picture manages to stir emotions and righteous anger without beating the audience over the head. "Mandela" may not be on the level of a towering achievement such as Spike Lee's "Malcolm X," but it's certainly worth seeing.

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