Review – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Mandela Long Walk to Freedom Poster

All too conveniently timed, this biopic of Nelson Mandela hits theaters less than three weeks after the inspirational leader of South Africa passed away at the age of 95.

I had hoped this would be a great film.  I wanted it to be.  Idris Elba is a talented actor and Nelson Mandela‘s story is one worth exploring.  Admittedly, I don’t know as much about the South African president as I probably should with the controversial events surrounding most of his life coming just a bit before my time, and history is just not really my thing.  All the more reason I hoped for a great movie about him.  Alas, this is not a great movie.

Through no real fault of the actors, who include Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela, Nelson’s wife and activist, the characters all fall flat.  It would have helped if Elba looked, sounded, or acted even remotely like Mandela.  He’s a man, with dark skin.  That’s about the extent of the similarities.  Regardless, though, neither he, nor any of the other actors are given much of anything to work with.  The film never finds a focal point.  Instead, it tries to cram about 80 years worth of life into one film, and despite it’s length, it never has enough time to do any of those years any justice.  We see events, we know they’re important, and then we move on to the next event we’re being told is important.  The people never feel real, there is very little sense of urgency, and the whole sequence is incredibly disjointed.

Maybe for those who lived through it or studied the events of Apartheid, it works better since the blanks are filled in automatically, but that shouldn’t have to be the case.  The characters are never given a chance to allow anyone to get to know them or feel much of anything for them.  One moment comes to mind, in the entire film, that felt even remotely emotional.  That is the scene where Mandela sees his daughter for the first time in years since he had been imprisoned.  Even the moment where he is given his freedom doesn’t have much emotional impact.  In short, a great man’s life doesn’t feel very great because it’s boiled down to vignettes that don’t connect well with each other or the audience.

It’s actually depressing to watch, but not for the reasons it should be.  Instead, we just feel embarrassed the actors who struggle to give gravity to scenes that won’t allow for it.  Instead of an emotional biopic epic, this is an epic fail and wasted opportunity.  It will be soon forgotten under piles of other poorly executed stories of famous people.

Mrs. Hamster says:

“It’s like a biography written for children, it doesn’t expand on any of the bullet points.”

My rating: Two out of five hats

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Trailer:

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom slogs through 975 theaters, December 25