Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom movie poster
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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom movie poster

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Movie Review

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Sometimes it's best not to listen to others. You should always listen to me, of course, but others... never be beholden to their opinions 100% of the time. I was told by multiple people that Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was boring and bland, and the fact that the movie failed to catch on with critics or audiences despite its theatrical release coincidentally coinciding with Nelson Mandela's death, reinforced my belief that the biopic was worth skipping.

Having now watched the movie on DVD, I can say that Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a surprisingly decent drama that only falters toward the end.

Idris Elba delivers a strong performance as he portrays Nelson Mandela over the course of several decades, from his youthful years as a defense attorney to his time in prison and eventual political ascension. Keeping stride with him is Naomie Harris (Skyfall), who passionately plays Mandela's fierce wife Winnie.

Directed by Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl), Mandela is a relatively straightforward biopic, but it feels more earnest and remains more interesting than many other biopics of recent memory. At two hours and 20 minutes in length, the movie could have been tightened a bit, but Nelson Mandela had such a long and incredible life that length really isn't the film's issue. Thankfully, Chadwick opts to focus on the development of the characters rather than dwell on key moments in Mandela's life; as a result, the movie feels more organic than many biopics that appear to be "checking off" notable moments of the subject's life.

In other words, I never found Mandela boring like so many of my friends and colleagues did.

Where I can relate, a little, is in the final 25 minutes, after Mandela is released from prison and the movie enters territory more familiar to most viewers: his political rise. An entire movie could be devoted to just this portion of Madiba's life, and as a result some of the political dealings feel rushed. Given that Chadwick details so much of his life, it probably wouldn't have made sense to cut things early, but the movie may have benefited from a more abridged depiction of Mandela's post-prison time.

Nonetheless, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a surprisingly effective, interesting and engaging biopic. It isn't a masterpiece by any means, but it deserves more recognition than it has received thus far.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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