Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris
Directed by: Justin Chadwick
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributed by The Weinstein Company
Runtime: 146 Minutes
Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is an inspiring, powerful and thought provoking film about the life of Nelson Mandela. Beginning with his boyhood in the fields in South Africa, to his rise as a lawyer in Johannesburg, his 27 years in prison on Robben Island and culminating in his release to become the first black president of South America.
Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) was born in 1918 and after growing up and reaching manhood, he left his village in South Africa and became educated and a lawyer. His job was to protect the citizens of Johannesburg. Because of the city and, really, the country’s huge racial boundaries, very similar to America’s at that time he felt a greater need not just to protect the citizens in court but before either of them ever made it to court. As one man he is little; he cannot accomplish anything. But, with a group of followers that started small but became many, he was strong. Along with his wife Winnie (Naomie Harris) they orchestrate demonstrations throughout the city, again similar to the ones brought about during the U.S racial wars. They refused to ride segregated buses and would ride the trains for whites only. Rather than use fire hoses, as their American counterparts, as a means to restrain the demonstrations the government-run police would use bullets, killing men, women and children at will. When the government became violent the demonstrations became violent, with bombings and looting.
Eventually Mandela and his men are caught and prosecuted as terrorists against the government and given the penalty of death. Mandela’s last words to the court were that racial equality was a dream he believed in — and one he would die for. To make a point the judge instead sentences Mandela and his compatriots to life in prison on Robben Island, South Africa’s version of Alcatraz. Even here, without a newspaper or television, he fights for the rights of the prisoners. He works to get the prisoners pants (they currently wear shorts). Mandela knows that little wins will earn you respect no matter where you are. He is completely oblivious to the outside world, which for the first 15-20 years of his imprisonment are filled with more race wars, bombings and killings. His wife Winnie, the leader of the ANC (African National Congress — this wasn’t really a political party it was more of a guerilla party for the rights of all men) has given up on trying to win the war for equality but is merely acting out in violence and hate.
Unaware of the changing climate in the outside world Mandela has no idea that a worldwide equal rights movement is happening… with him as the centerpiece for equality and freedom. When his daughter turns 16 it’s the first time he has ever met her. She comes to visit him in prison and brings him a “Free Mandela” button. She explains to him that though they never met and he never met the millions around the world he is still looked to as a leader.
The rest of the movie is pretty much what we all know from our history lessons. Mandela was given a pardon by the newly appointed president of South Africa, FW De Klerk; before this he was “imprisoned” in a house with his family while he worked with De Klerk on human rights. Upon his release he was elected president, the first black president of South Africa and the rest is all history.
Though the film seems to be a little on the long side I only found a few scenes where it dragged. The message is so inspirational that I didn’t really care that much that it dragged on. It’s a great story of hope and the performances are fantastic. I saw Elba in “Pacific Rim” this summer and this performance made me completely forget about that movie. He does such a great job from his tone of voice to capturing Mandela’s gait, nailing the performance.
Award voting season is coming upon us, and I expect Elba, Harris and the film to receive recognition for the great portrayal of the Mandela family and for educating the many people who see this as the behind the scenes story of Nelson Mandela and his walk to freedom.