Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom


Release: Christmas Day 2013


Nelson Mandela. Now there’s a name that has ‘Hollywood movie’ written all over it.

With the passing of such an extraordinary figure a mere month ago, the moment doesn’t seem to be any riper for a major motion picture about him to be sweeping across the globe. While it’s pretty difficult to conceive of this international release date being any more strategic than just being a ‘Christmas Day release’ (that’s a profitable enough decision to begin with), some of the more pessimistic of us are inclined to speculate that perhaps someone on the inside knew about certain developments in their subject’s health, on a medical level, on a level most of us wouldn’t care to know or recognize as being true. With the saddening foresight that this man might not be around for much longer, why not use that as leverage to potentially gain an even bigger audience?

That is, of course, to suggest: what would the box office turn-out be if this film was released, say this past summer? Next summer? Two Septembers from now? Would a later release date help the film fulfill its potential to move audiences?

Most people probably don’t think of movie releases being manipulative. And yet reality dictates that, with a time frame such as this (Mandela dying twenty days prior to the release), the subject would suddenly become more relevant; the potential for emotional connectivity would become much greater. If we didn’t have to come to terms with Nelson Mandela no longer being with us, this Christmas release would otherwise seem a little arbitrary.

Unfortunately, all of that is pure speculation. Some readers are probably shaking their heads at the level of cynicism on display. I don’t blame those people for thinking I’m overanalyzing the situation, but I think I’m going to stand by my conviction that Hollywood’s suits (i.e. some of the happiest people on Earth) really dug the idea of this suddenly becoming a much more timely tribute to Mandela. Especially when the film’s screenplay seems to support my perhaps off-kilter views.

At two hours and twenty minutes in length, Long Walk to Freedom is really a long sit. It overstays its welcome, a concept that must be difficult to believe if you have yet to see this, because it deals with one of the world’s most influential human rights activists. How, pray, does a topic like this wear thin?

Oh, how it does. . .

Written more as a thoroughly-detailed biography special on the History channel, director Justin Chadwick’s ambition isn’t to blame, entirely. As one can imagine, he had to sift through a tremendous wealth of information about the subject and the climate of South African politics of the time, so perhaps the condescendingly low-brow style of the film should be forgiven. Though this too often has the feel of a history class lecture, there’s ultimately nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s just not the film most are going to be expecting when it features one of the most rapidly-rising British stars at this moment.

The film is almost saved by London-native Idris Elba’s authentic portrayal of Mr. Mandela. Naomie Harris vies for some potential nominations as well, as she steps inside the role of Winnie Madikizela, Nelson’s second wife, an extremely frustrated woman who turned to more radical and violent measures of fighting for her fellow oppressed people. With both leads clearly committed to giving the film some gravity — Elba’s heavily-covered-in-make-up facial expressions are on multiple occasions heartbreaking and are effective in visually demonstrating the burden the real life figured carried with him for his long, long life — Long Walk can’t be dismissed completely as a ‘bad’ film.

Perhaps a more accurate description of the experience is underwhelming, which is a crime unto itself. Chadwick makes sure he maintains a reasonable number of inspirational quotes from the man himself, but it looks like we, the folks who were hoping to learn something about this iconic figure, might have to wait a few more years before being treated to the proper Mandela biopic. With absolutely no offense to the two lead performers — since they are virtually the only reason this film bears significance at all — Long Walk feels much too rushed, another sign this was a product of emphatic marketing to the public.

Elba and Harris do all they can with the material, but even their own personal, strong convictions about who their characters were drown in a sea of mediocrity and obligatory sentimentality.


2-5Recommendation: It’s hardly an offensive film, even considering how middling the end results are. If you know literally nothing about the man (if that’s the case, shame on you) you will come away with a newfound respect for the struggles of these people and this man in particular. But if you’ve done any research whatsoever about this troubling bit of history, you’re not likely to be as moved by his dramatized on-screen plight. And to me, that just ain’t right.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 139 mins.

Quoted: “No person is ever born hating another person because of the color of their skin. People learn to hate. They are taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.”

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25 thoughts on “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

  1. I don’t think you’re overanalyzing anything here. This was the prime time to release and they did.

    As a South African I know this might sound like heresy, but I intensely doubt that I am going to watch this. I didn’t even go and see Invictus, and I have still not seen it.

    I will protest the movie 😛


    • Hahaha! I applaud you for your position, then. It’s not an incredibly well-made movie, I must admit. Which, when talking about someone like Nelson Mandela, is just such a shame. For whatever it’s worth, I loved, loved, loved Idris Elba and Naomie Harris in this. They just couldn’t overcome the poor A&E biography-like script even with their towering performances.

      That said, I wouldn’t necessarily skip it on Netflix when it comes available, though. 😀


      • Thank you, thank you very much. I can believe that they gave solid performances, but I have had NO interest in seeing this, even since I heard it was coming. That said, your review didn’t push me further in the direction of getting involved haha! Invictus also had solid performances and what not (and I love Matt Damon – but NO GO), but I really don’t think it is going to happen.

        He had such an interesting life, but the media also only highlights certain points of it, not the whole affair. They don’t lay out all the facts and things.

        Hmmm, see, we don’t have access to Netflix here 😉


      • That’s completely understandable not seeing this. I am a little frustrated to say the least about it.

        What isn’t understandable though, is not being able to get Netflix. . arggh!!!! This must change. . . . 😛


  2. It’s interesting how a 2 hour 20 min film felt like a long sit, yet a 3 hour film (The Wolf of Wall Street) just flew by. I guess length isn’t the issue but rather what’s being dramatized on screen. I haven’t seen this yet but it’s kind of fallen by the way side. It’s funny you mention Idris Elba almost saving the film because he’s so good. Yet he wasn’t even nominated at the BAFTAs and given he’s from London and it’s a British award, you’d have though he’d be a shoo in.

    Great review as always.


    • Thank you kindly Mark, that’s criminal he didn’t get so much as a nomination. I have to hand it to this poster, the tagline gets the performance perfectly: it’s towering. He’s spectacular, and almost literally the reason why it’s even a 50/50 split for me. The writing for this film was disappointingly low-brow and the events were all glossed over with a sense of urgency that made the timeline seem all weird. Especially given the amount of time we spend with him in prison. But my complaints maybe being a bit picky? I don’t really know.


  3. For a film called “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” I understand it kind of shuffles around the man without really getting its hands dirty. A shame really. I’ll still probably see this as I have a lot of time for Elba. Good stuff Tom; interesting read!


    • Hey Mark, thanks a lot man. While the content isn’t really ‘bad,’ yeah, you got it. The movie does not get its hands dirty enough. It seems weird that I’m complaining about the film cuz Elba is so damn good, but ugh. . .I don’t know. It was missing some kind of oomph


    • Cheers Chris, that might be the only way to go about trying to fully enjoy this one. Head in with tempered expectations. This review isn’t to say there aren’t very good parts throughout but they’re not long enough or often enough. But if you’re going for Idris Elba, that’s good enough. 🙂


  4. Agreed on the film. It isn’t bad, but it is underwhelming, the excellent lead performances notwithstanding. Said much the same in my own review, actually.


    • Cool man, I’ll be on by to check it out soon here then. We’re in agreement that this film had so much potential for showing perhaps. . not necessarily ‘one-sided’ perspective of this iconic man, but at least something more wieldy, like say if it was a film which started from his time in prison or something and built up the tension and drama that way. . .just as an example. There was just so much material covered here that none of it was really owed the full attention. But yeah, Elba and Harris were stunning


      • Completely agreed. Starting with and focusing on the time in prison is the same suggestion I made.

        The disappointing part is that the marketing department knew what kind of film would be most powerful. Their tag line was: “The hero you knew. The man you didn’t.” So why isn’t that the movie they actually made, you know?


      • Yes!!! Indeed. I really don’t want to come off sound disrespectful but it just seems like such a convenient and “easy” production. The prison section was quite compelling and thoroughly difficult to comprehend (considering the real-world implications). ughh…I’m getting frustrated talking about this. hahaha


  5. Yeah, call me a cynic but the release was rather convenient wasn’t it? Sorry to hear that the film doesn’t quite cut it either. This man deserves an amazing biopic that reflects his amazing life. Great work, Tom. Great work, my son. 😉


  6. Nice review. It did seem gimmicky and in bad taste it was released after Mandela’s death. That’s disappointing to hear since Idris Elba is one of the best and most overlooked actors today.


    • Clearly the film’s release was set well in advance so it’s mere bad luck it was SO close to his passing, but I sometimes just wonder. . .if there was just some kind of preemptive decision to make this a relatively timely release.

      Idris Elba should get much recognition for this role, he is truly great. I thought he made the film much better.


    • Thanks Joseph, appreciate it. I’m with you with the quality of Elba’s performance, he was fantastic and was absolutely the element that might have saved it for me. The movie worked in some ways (the two performances) but failed in a lot of others. I had problems justifying the weaknesses a lot and ended up coming out disappointed, but it’s not a bad film really


  7. Good review Tom. The performances from Elba and Harris are what really push this movie one-bar above being a standard, conventional biopic.


    • thanks Dan, but unfortunately I would have to really disagree with that. Elba and Harris for sure are great, but this is pretty much the definition of standard biopic. At least to me, it was. I expected something much greater than this. . .


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