‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ review: A respectful look at the life of a global icon
President Barack Obama in Washington, D. C. The night before his breakfast break, the 41-year-old was presented with the British Humanitarian Award by Mandelaas approving daughter Zindzi at a nearby Beverly Hills Hotel. Itas heady stuff but Elba didnat need to be reminded of the pressure and responsibility of playing the lawyer and revolutionary leader who helped end apartheid in South Africa then govern the former racially divided country after free elections. aOf course, I had trepidation at first,a said Elba of the momentous challenge. aHeas a global hero so I did have to think about it, but in the end, I couldnat resist.a Based on the Nobel Peace Prize winneras best-selling 1995 autobiography, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, follows the man from young adulthood as a frisky, womanizing lawyer to his transformation into a rebel and saboteur. Some of Mandelaas 27 years in prison are also represented and so is his release and triumphant rise to power when he took his homeland from the repressive dark ages to the more the progressive era of equality. Through all the ups and down depicted in the movie, the bond between Mandela (Elba) and his wife Winnie (Naomie Harris) is underscored. Without Elbaas consistently valiant performance, however, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom would be lost in the narrative demands of covering over seven decades of his life. aI had an instinct about Idris,a maintained Chadwick who met with Elba at an audition in Toronto where the actor was filming the sci-fi epic Pacific Rim. aHeas a very truthful and brave actor, and after a few minutes I knew he was the one.a Elba never had the opportunity to meet with Mandela who was too ill to receive visitors at the time. But Chadwick managed a brief session with the heralded South African months before shooting began, and the Brit filmmaker remembered being amazed by his energy and charisma.
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5, encompassed so many chapters, both personally and politically, that to cover them all in one feature-length film seems almost impossible. But the respectful, sometimes moving effort to do so in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, nearly succeeds, thanks mostly to a heroic performance by Idris Elba as the man who, more than any other, ended South Africas system of racial segregation and in the process became an icon of hope to billions around the globe. Mandelas sanctification in the years following his 1990 release after 26 years in prison makes it all the more important to focus on his earlier years, which William Nicholsons screenplay (based on Mandelas own candid memoirs) does well. Those who think of him as the gray-haired paragon of forgiveness and reconciliation might be surprised at the violence he reluctantly condoned during the early 1960s and which led to his sentence of life imprisonment in 1964. Elba plays Mandela over a 30-year period, and while he doesnt resemble the man physically, he imparts the requisite dignity, and he gets Mandelas distinctive voice down pat. Just as impressive is Naomie Harris performance as Mandelas volatile wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who suffered in some ways as much as he did, but emerged from it a more broken person. British-born director Justin Chadwick might not seem the most logical choice to bring Mandelas life to the screen, but he handles the historical sweep and the intimate moments with equal steadiness. The film resists the urge to depict a flawless Mandela, both by showing the ways he neglected his family in favor of the political struggle and by giving voice to those who debated against his diplomatic tactics during his prison term. Valuable primarily as a history lesson and a showcase for Elba, Long Walk to Freedom might have been more effective as a miniseries, where each of Mandelas many lives could have been given full rein. The activities of the African National Congress during the early 1960s, for instance, have the makings of an intense, politically-charged thriller. But as a cinematic monument to one of the 20th centurys greatest figures, its a good start. ——————————————————
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