TIFF 2013: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

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As far back as I can remember, Nelson Mandela has always been a figure that drew great intrigue and reverence from me. So you can imagine my excitement as a cinephile when I had tickets to the world premiere of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” securely in my palm. Everything from his legendary history and illustrious career, to his lengthy jail stint and personal relationships captivated my attention…even his unique voice and mannerisms. All this and so much more make the hallowed Nelson Mandela one of the most interesting, controversial, and significant soles living today. Now, most respect and recognize him for his role in abolishing apartheid in South Africa, and with good reason. This achievement alone is one of the most important milestones of our lifetime. While I can honestly say that it was this very event that originally lured me to Mandela, his courage, love, and insight is what kept me glued long after.

Surprisingly, for someone whose life that’s been as watched, recorded, and collated as Mandela’s has. There are many different opinions and takes in articles, books, videos, etc…on the events and circumstances of his personal life and surrounding his political existence. For the majority, the outlook is positive and reassuring, but by no means am I claiming that my view is the only correct vantage point, nor am I discrediting the conclusions of others. One should always research and evaluate the  material available for the topic at hand and form their own assessments. That being said, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is based on a autobiography, so I think it is safe to say that this account of Mandela’s life is fairly accurate. Especially when considering that this retelling isn’t always portraying the man himself in the britest light. He is a man and he has flaws, this is made abundantly clear in the film, which is probably why the film is so grounded and gripping.

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Chronicling Mandela’s life, beginning as a child growing up in a rural village, through his adolescent years and receiving his education, all the way up to his revolution, imprisonment, and political aspirations. “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is a taut, well-paced biopic that clocks in at a daunting two hours and thirty-two minutes. Yet, in all honesty, it is a retelling of one of the most epic, influential, and imperative lives to have graced the Earth. So a lengthy runtime is almost a necessity in order to do it justice, not to mention right. Directed by Justin Chadwick, Mandela’s walk to freedom might have been long and arduous, but this cinematic adaptation of his autobiography appears to be on a short path to the Oscars. With a pair of unprecedented performances from Idris Elba and Naomi Harris, a compelling, historically salient story, and visuals that always astound and provoke a reaction. This biopic should garner several nominations come award season.

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In the first few moments, the vast landscape encompasses the screen’s outlining and the theatre surrounding you begins to fall away until the striking, resplendent scenery completely immerses you. This engulfment is constant throughout the film and forces you to fully invest. That being said, what you’re visually absorbing isn’t always easy to look at. There is some unsettling imagery and severe violence. At a few points during the film, the viewer sitting in the seat directly beside me found the visuals so upsetting that she got teary-eyed and had to turn away. For the most part however, I think that any strong-willed viewer or veteran cinephile can handle the content. For example, I found the violence and imagery fairly tame, but I’ve seen quite possibly the most horrid films known to man. Nonetheless, watching a relationship fall apart, unnecessary slaughter, and fellow people in distress is never easy to watch. Especially when it’s so well done.

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The soundtrack is another of the film’s high-points. The original score is composed by Alex Heffes, who’s resume includes work used on several Oscar-winning films. So, if his track record and reputation hold up, it looks as if another one of the films he has touched will be heading to awards season. However, while there is so much to like, respect, and enjoy about this film, it doesn’t look like it will be the universally acknowledged biopic masterpiece that some had hoped for. Judging by the critical reception of the film thus far, it appears that “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” will divide audiences. There is grounds for negativity regarding the film, just not in my opinion. Although not perfect, there certainly is far more upside to the film than any fault one can find or imply exists. It might err one the side of safety and respect occasionally, but nothing severe enough to hamper the film.

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Some may find inconsistencies and faults in the film’s skeletal structural, length, even it’s historical accuracy. But one thing everyone will agree on is that the flaws, if any, in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” are trumped by the performances belted out by the magnificent Idris Elba and the lovely Naomi Harris. The two are truly nothing short of perfection in there portrayals of Winnie Mandela and Nelson Mandela respectively. Harris, who’s best known for her supporting role in “Skyfall” and as the leading lady in “28 Days Later” seems to have finally broken through to elite status. I’d be very surprised if she doesn’t earn an Oscar nomination come award season. As for Elba, what can one say about his transformation other than that he became the man himself. The voice, accent, physical appearance, everything down to the tiniest detail. Not to mention the incredible emotional stamina and dramatic diversity. If his portrayal of Nelson Mandela isn’t Oscar-worthy, I don’t know what is.

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Performed with admirable reverence and investment of the highest caliber. “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is an enthralling biopic that will surely garner consideration award season. Although it might be a little too safe and overly long for some.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: 8 out of 10.

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About Joseph@thecinemamonster

Aspiring writer who absolutely adores film and television. thecinemamonster.com

Posted on October 2, 2013, in Drama and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Nice one – I doubt this is one I’ll ever see. You know, not when there’s things like Scar to watch : )

    LOL

  2. Victor De Leon

    Great review! I’m not a huge fan of Bio Pics (I actually really enjoyed “42” but I’m biased because I love baseball) but I really would love to watch this. Sounds incredible. I like Elba, too, of course. His show, “Luther’ is amazing. Thanks!

    • Thanks Vic! I do enjoy biopics, but only when done right, like “The Aviator.” I feel that it is a must see, if only for the performances. Elba is particularly phenomenal. Never watched “Luther,” any good?

      • Victor De Leon

        I am a huge fan of Scorcese’s “The Aviator.” It works on so many levels.”Luther” is indeed a very well done show. The first series has 6 eps but the second set had only 4, I believe. They run about an hour or so. Series 3 started back in July and is about 4 eps in.

        Elba plays a grizzled homicide Investigator (who lands a serial killer into the hospital with a coma) in London who displays some very unorthodox ways of catching bad guys. His personal life is a mess as well. But, he’s smart, tough and compassionate. Alba knocks it out of the park.

        It is on Netflix, currently. So far just Series 1 and 2. Also, check out Foyle’s War. Another good show with Michael Kitchen. I recommend them highly!

      • Sounds awesome! I need to start watching more television, Luther seems like a good place to start. Thanks for the recommendation :).

      • Victor De Leon

        no prob. enjoy!

  3. Great! I hope I can see this one at some point 😀

  4. Great review Joseph. I really want to see this. Idris Elba’s performance in The Wire as Stringer Bell is one of the best character portrayals ever.

  5. Great review. Not THAT excited about this one, but nonetheless looking forward to watching it.

  6. Hmmmm, didn’t even know Madiba was getting a biopic, to be honest! Nice review!

  7. Nice review mate, quite the slew of films you saw at TIFF! Reasonably interested in this one, if just for Idris. I’m sure he’ll get Oscar buzz for it, just because of who he’s portraying.

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