Friday 14 February 2014

Film Review: Mandela - Long Walk to Freedom

A biopic on one of the 21st Century's most influential political figures, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is something of a mixed-bag in comparison to others in the genre; whilst it is a tonally consistent and respectful depiction of Nelson Mandela, you can't help feeling like they bit off more than they could chew.

The film, starring Idris Elba as the titular icon, follows Mandela from his humble origins as a lawyer, all the way through to becoming South Africa's first black president in 1994. The film also stars Skyfall's Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela and is directed by Justin Chadwick (Spooks, The Other Boleyn Girl).

First off, the acting; the two lead performances from Elba and Harris are the biggest plus-point about this film. Elba (Prometheus, Pacific Rim, Thor) doesn't appear to let the pressure of playing such an iconic figure affect his performance and is fantastic. His performance is charming, affecting, grounded, respectful and convincing. Things get a bit shaky later on in the movie when Elba is buried under layers of prosthetic, and his most impressive acting comes during the middle third when he is faced with lifetime imprisonment.

Naomie Harris is also great as the fierce and determined Winnie Mandela. I felt that the characterisation of her character was wonderfully done, as she is transformed from a fairly quiet bit-part to a fiery revolutionary. The film certainly steps up a gear or three when her character is introduced.

One of the films main issues however is the pacing, or general structure. The film picks up in 1942, where Mandela is a young, ambitious lawyer. Before long, he is married, with kids and making a name for himself as an influential political figure. The narrative winds its way through divorce, guerilla warfare, capture, courthouse drama, prison, release and so on.

It suffers in the same way that last years' Jobs did; it simply tries to cram in too many important life-defining moments. It's not possible to cram 60 years of such a defining life into two-and-a-half hours and not expect it to feel a little rushed or thin in certain places. Maybe if the film had centred in on a specific period of Mandela's life (his guerilla warfare origins for example) and not tried to span several decades, it would have felt a lot more compelling.

Things don't really get all that interesting until midway through the film, when Mandela is thrown into jail on Robben Island 'for life'. By this point, the characters haven't been developed enough, as their characterisation has been brushed aside in favour of the driving narrative.

As a result, the audience is left feeling as though they have been presented with a swift power-point of the great man's achievements, with the film not lingering long enough to focus on the fine detail and emotions driving the characters.

In terms of direction and cinematography, Justin Chadwick certainly does a great job bathing South Africa in a warm, orangey glow that mirrors the respectful tone that film conveys. The general tone is one of uplifting harmony and acceptance, something which can hardly be criticised. I did feel as though I took something away from Mandela, and actually learnt a great deal.

The Verdict: 6/10

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a good, but not great, biopic that does an admirable job of condensing a defining lifetime into a two-and-a-half hour run-time. The pacing and characterisation is a bit awkward in places, but for the most part, you'll leave feeling as though you have watched something important and necessary. 

1 comment:

  1. Sounds a bit full on.... something that the ladies might like also.. maybe just a good one to go a see in full view at the Cinema



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