‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ review: Biopic fails to engage
Yet sometime later, the Anglo-Dutch white minority tightens the screws on the black population. A more detailed history would explain that harsh new laws were implemented that required all South African blacks to carry papers restricting their movements. Instead we get some biographical overview about Mandelas first wife and indistinguishable kids, followed by his flirtation with a socially conscious beauty named Winnie (Naomie Harris). In the 50s, Mandela disowns the tactics of nonviolent resistance and becomes a bomb-tossing terrorist with allies in the communist bloc.
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Instead, it is a series of historical vignettes that take place from Mandelas rural childhood in the 1920s through to his inauguration day on May 10, 1994, as South Africas first black president. Real-life news photos and video footage are inserted, too, including some of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre and the black-on-black race war that took place prior to Mandelas election. The episodic nature of the films structure turns Chadwicks noble effort into a lumbering giant that runs 139 minutes, and fails to engage us in any significant emotional or intellectual embrace. There are moments when it does not feel like a fragmented TV mini-series, but those are rare and mostly occur during the depiction of Mandelas 27 years in prison, especially on notorious Robben Island. What the film does do well, is embody the spirit of Mandela. Elba (The Wire, Thor), an English actor with a refined technique and great talent, sublimates himself and his own accent. He is extremely convincing, except for some late scenes when the aging makeup turns his face into an unexpressive plastic mask. Less is usually more when it comes to old-man makeup.
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