When a real life story is being crafted plenty of sensitivity is given to those involved as not to offend or distort facts. Some films lose sight of reality along the way like Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock but with a film like Hitchcock you can expect a little leeway due to the fact people will never really quite know the very private man. With Mandela people have come to know the man better than they know themselves making Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom a film of tremendous risk. However nobody could have expected the unfortunate timing of the release as we lost the man behind the film on 5th December 2013, just under a month before the films release. Despite that the film is a loving depiction of a man that doesn’t pull any punches and does not paint him like too much of a saint despite the directors excessive devotion.
So without further ado here is my review.
Mandela : Long Walk to Freedom
Directed by Justin Chadwick
Written By William Nicholson
When it comes to Mandela and Long Walk to Freedom it must be said that they are not perfect, not only does Mandela employ some questionable tactics to reach his goal but Chadwick has created a tale that has more than a few noticeable flaws. The films script is excellent, Nicholson has gotten to the heart of the man not only through the way he talks but how he acts. Chadwick however uses the script as a jumping off point to give him a rosy tinge, a element of the film that I would not be surprised if people, including Mandela himself, would find error with. Thats not to say that it makes a saint out of him, he regrets the acts he commits but accepts the necessary nature of them.
The film while following the life of the would be president of South Africa doesn’t delve into that aspect of his life as the film deals with his early revolutionary days and the years he spends under incarceration for his so called heroism. While he spends his years locked away the film switches views and delves into the dangerous world he has created for his family, specifically for his wife Winnie (Naomie Harris) who is forced to endure some heinous acts aimed at Nelson (Idris Elba).
The film aims to inspire but one of the hidden themes the film deals with is corruption, be it Mandela’s decision to carry out acts of civil disobedience and destruction or the corruption of a soul, specifically Winnie’s as she is turned from a loving wife into a militant revolutionary, a woman sick of being controlled not only by the government trying to keep their power and status but by Mandela himself who sees her as something to protect, something she ultimately comes to resent more than the people that turned her into a wicked woman. Harris makes it easy to sympathise with Winnie although at times its hard to find empathy for her as she brings pain and destruction to those around her.
The film belongs to Elba though as he does some of his best work. His Mandela is strong but wise, a justified man full of conviction but equal amounts of regret as he is forced to hear about but not see the children he left behind. The film only briefly shows the man before he took up the cause to rid South Africa of apartheid, something that leaves a lingering hole in the film as viewers are presented with one view of the man and one alone. THe opening shows a different side of him, a more cautious side and while heroism and revolution makes for good cinema I was intrigued by this duality, at how Mandela a man of action and reaction could also be a cautious man pushed to the edge. Elba crafts two sides of the man, both in perfect harmony. On the one hand he is a father and lover, an appreciator of women and the ladies in his life but the nagging desires for something more bring out the lawyer in him, the man obsessed with inequality and the unfair aspects of the law he loves so much.
The film never feels long, it doesn’t drag but it does miss opportunities within the films structure as moments are overly glorified or not discussed enough as massacres are given a few fleeting moments as moments of grandstanding and speechifying take centre stage. That’s not to say Elba doesn’t bring these moments to life but they don’t contrast with the films revolutionary spirit as the words don’t speak as loud as the actions.
Chadwick has crafted an entertaining and honest film but his devotion to the subject and the man has created a sense of tunnel vision as the film glances past the man at times, intent on portraying the myth, a mistake that can be accepted but never ignored
Overall Rating: 8/10
What did you think of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom? Was it everything you thought it would be or did it leave you wondering who Mandela really was? Let me know in the comments.