Thursday, January 9, 2014

Movie Review - Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

I don't think it's good when a movie about a Nobel Peace Prize winner gets me to like that Prize-winner less. Obviously, no man is perfect, and seeing the man's flaws makes him more human and more sympathetic, but I felt nothing for the titular man as I watched this film.

The first knock, which turned me off, is that in the 1940s, South African lawyer Nelson Mandela, played by Idris Elba (Thor and Prometheus), cheats on his wife. This wouldn't have been a problem, but the movie does nothing to explain why he has the affair. He basically sees some random woman coming out the courthouse and then cut to next scene where he's having sex with her, only in the next scene to come home to his wife Evelyn.

Are we simply to assume he's a horn dog? What was the point of showing the pomp and circumstance of his wedding to his next wife, Winnie, played by Naomie Harris (28 Days Later and Skyfall), if he's someone who can't be monogamous?

Secondly, I don't think this movie or any character in it even utters at any point the word "apartheid." There's no real explanation of Mandela's involvement with the African National Congress or ANC, or its organizational structure, or how he rose to prominence within it. All of that is taken for granted. All we see is Mandela walking with a group of protestors one day. The bigotry and harsh discrimination against black people is made clear, but then we jump to Mandela in the 1960s helping to set off actual bombs in various buildings in South Africa.

Later, after Mandela is put into prison for these crimes and Winnie becomes more militant in her ways, he has the audacity to call his wife a terrorist. He couldn't possibly be so short-sighted that he can't see that that's the pot calling the kettle black. Mandela would probably argue that he never killed anyone, but, one of the bombings he orchestrates results in one of their own getting hurt, so the potential was there.

Mandela calling his wife a terrorist would have been fine, but, again, there isn't enough perspective provided of why Mandela justifies setting off bombs and being stubborn he did nothing wrong. He never even mentions the bombings again after it happens.

Nothing is made compelling about his time in prison that was as interesting as anything seen in HBO's Oz or Netflix's Orange is the New Black, or even any of the countless movies about people in prison like The Shawshank Redemption.

After he's released from prison, yes, it's well-known that he is elected the first black president of South Africa, but I don't feel like enough is done or shown, which would endear Mandela to the people, aside from one or two characters briefly verbalizing such.

Based on Mandela's autobiography, director Justin Chadwick goes through all the motions of Mandela's life, hitting major milestones, but I never felt the depth. Idris Elba is magnetic, but even all his charms weren't enough.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images, sexual content and brief strong language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 21 mins.

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