Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Biopics that attempt to cover the whole life of their subject often end up just skimming the surface. It’s just not possible to fit an entire life into a feature-length film, even if a big chunk of that life was spent in a prison cell.
This follows the life of Mandela (Idris Elba), starting from his days as a young lawyer in South Africa. Initially more interested in the ladies than in revolution, he gradually became more involved in the anti-apartheid movement, first following the non-violent model set out by Gandhi in India, then moving towards armed struggle when the regime cracked down. Surprisingly, this largely skims over his terrorist activities to focus on his trial where he and his fellow activists fully expected to be executed for their crimes. Instead, the state refused to create martyrs, shipping them off to prison where they hoped they would be forgotten and ignored. There they became symbols of the struggle going on outside the prison walls, and when Mandela was finally released 27 years later, it was into a new South Africa – one he’d largely helped shape.
Epic in scope but severely lacking in insight, this strains for gravitas but rarely lifts above the heights of a competent midday movie. Which isn’t all that surprising; as the closest thing to an official big screen take on Mandela’s life we’ll get (it’s based on Mandela’s 1994 autobiography), the inoffensive middle ground is exactly where this film belongs. At least there’s some minor effort to create a rounded portrait of Mandela, even if his flaws (he likes the ladies) are skimmed over, his terrorist days are summed up in a handful of explosions and the aging makeup toward the end isn’t the best.
Elba’s performance gives this what little strength it has. This is competent storytelling, but lacks the fire and passion the man himself deserved.
Written by Anthony Morris