Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – 3/5 – Movie Reviews by Ry!

MandelaMandela: Long Walk to Freedom – 3/5 – Biopics of historical people; these are films that can either soothe the soul or feel like a bland educational study.   When it comes to these kinds of films, the entertaining value doesn’t always come from story itself, it usually comes from the characters.  From here, majority of the great aspects of the film comes from the character development, which helps complement the story.  For this biopic, there is strength in the character and his development, but the overall progression of the film lacks a lot of value around him.  Overall, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a film of great value, but never hits the high point of a great biopic.

Premise: A chronicle of Nelson Mandela’s life; we see how this man’s journey from childhood of a rural village to becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

In the lead role as the iconic Nelson Mandela is Idris Elba.  A very well known actor, he gives his best acting role to date in this film.  As Nelson Mandela, he creates a deeply involving individual, creating a window for the audience to see who this man was and how much he dealt with in struggling and fighting for freedom of his people in S. Africa.  In providing us with a deeply moving person, we see how this man evolves from being a radically angry man fighting in the uprising in the beginning of the film, to someone that grows into a wise and gentle soul while being imprisoned.  From beginning till the end, even when this film fails to provide any kind of depth around him, Elba himself shows great commandment in each scene he is in. From his deeply perceptive monologues and interactions with the ANC, to the most personal intimate moments he has with his children or wives, you feel his passion, sorrow and happiness throughout.  A lot of the deeply moving experiences are created through non-speaking expressions, where you watch his face exudes what he is thinking, analyzing or dreaming about while on this long journey; especially in the scenes when he is in prison.  You feel the purpose of this struggle, and the reasons behind his motives.  You will believe that Idris is Nelson Mandela and not just another person acting an important figure in a movie.  Outside of him (when it comes to the acting), everybody else just acts very standard characters for a biopic.  The actors/actress in the supporting cast helps provide a ‘specific’ aspect to either the historical points or personal parts of Mandela’s inner circle.  In just being predictable characters, there is a lack of depth that creates a lot of moments that should be engaging but aren’t.  The one standout in the supporting cast is Naomie Harris as WInnie Mandela.  She is the only one that breaks the mold of an important figure, and helps provided that ‘stern’ woman and wife that compliments Mandela’s struggles throughout his life.  She helps provide a strong presence, especially when he is in jail.  The most poignant moments happen between Elba and Harris, creating something worth gripping to emotionally in the film.

The direction of this film follows a chronological path, but there is a real problem with the overall progression of the film.  Even when a film uses the chronological choice, you always have to provide some kind of value in those scenes with pace.  What you come to see (while watching this film) is how sloppy the first part of the film is to the second part.   In the beginning, we get introduced to Nelson Mandela through a quick ‘where I come from’ prologue, which helps define his initial choice to be a lawyer and fight the fight for freedom peacefully. Even when some of the struggles are hard (because of the oppression) you see him have a conflict of going rogue and fighting fire with fire. During this, we watch as the film goes through the standard ‘chronological’ direction, moving through specific moments that helps build up the main character (Nelson Mandela).  Through this part of his life, there is no real focus on creating any kind of substance to these important marks in Mandela’s early life, causing it to feel bland and uneventful.  These particular moments should have had more development time, because of the importance it had on Mandela’s decisions and the consequence of those decisions.  Even for the lacking in substance, the scenes stay strong because of either an emotional interaction between him and his first wife; or his ‘powerful’ speeches about life and freedom.   The pacing is another problem you see in the first part of the film, as it moves pretty face, feeling it as it goes through the following:

Important moment happens in S. Africa

Mandela’s reaction

Decision to (insert important action)

Lead on to another moment situation

The bad pacing creates a lack of depth to the story.  Even so, you’re still intrigued on the history enveloping here, because of who the film is about.  Once we get through all the typical ‘fight the power’ scenes, the film’s tone begins to change.  Where you feel the real feeling of a true biopic is when Nelson meet’s his second wife, Winnie.  From here, the pace of film begins slowing down to a more intimate flow, creating a viewing experience that shows purpose, growth and humanistic values.  The direction of the film starts to add more to the ‘chronological’ spectrum with a ‘real life’ flavor, causing moments to be strong, characters to feel more real, and a rawness to the historical perspectives.  Nelson Mandela and his group of ANC individuals eventually get captured, tried in court and imprisoned.  This second part of the film shows a deeply evolving tone.  Here, we get to see Mandela at his lowest, and becomes to grow wiser and learns a strong tale of fighting the fear with love, patience, acceptance and forgiveness.  Here, we start to watch as both sides of the oppression of apartheid show more vividly on screen; as the emotional conflict comes undone at the actions and purpose of the laws and people’s choices during this turmoil of S. Africa’s history.  Once the film get’s into the third act and he is freed, we watch as the bittersweet tale of this ‘long walk’ starts to come true, and all the purposeful methods of bringing those truths to the screen strike an chord within.  By the time the climax hits, you feel the strength in the message, and have a subtle but clear understanding of who the man (Nelson Mandela) was.  A lot of his actions you might not agree with, but you see how real the struggle was, why those decisions were made, and how he became the face of nation.

The visuals of the film strike a real presence of the reality of the situations that happen during the bulk of Mandela’s life.  Through the oppressive action scenes, to the creation of both the prison and the whole aspect of S. Africa during this time, you feel as if you are a part of the journey, even when it is dire and uneventful because of the direction.  The score is not a controlling part of the film, but when it is needed to pump up the deeply involving moments, it strikes gold and helps bring the heart of the film out for the audience.

Overall, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a film that does a good job in showing who Nelson Mandela was, and the struggles him and his people had to go through to get real freedom.  Idris Elba is fantastic in the role, as he shows real commandment as this iconic individual.   The direction of the film is sloppy at first, but it eventually zones in and you began to feel the real part of the journey.  If you’re a fan of historical films, biopics, or want to learn a good deal of whom this man was, check out this film.  You will be moved at what you see.

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