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