This accidentally well-timed Mandela biopic certainly justifies its title. It does feel like a long walk, a very long walk, which doesn’t so much capture the strength and endurance of Mandela’s struggle as it tests its audience patience. It suffers from feeling descriptive, like a dramatisation of a wikipedia article rather than an attempt to bring to life the emotion and courage of one of the world’s greatest ever leaders. When Mandela and his comrades are sentenced to life imprisonment and subsequently subjected to awful treatment, its impossible to not feel strong emotion but such moments are too infrequent and unfortunately don’t follow enough of a dramatic thread. Mandela suffers from feeling too incidental without the necessary reflection to anchor the piece. First this happens, leading to this action, bringing on this occurrence. The film ambitiously attempts to cover Mandela’s entire life and it feels like a project too overwhelming for director Justin Chadwick. Unlike Invictus (which dramatised Mandela’s attempt to unite South Africa’s rugby team), it feels like an excess of things occurring instead of really wrestling with his struggle and desires. Even the charisma of Idris Elba finds it difficult to breathe above the surface. He seems too much like an actor trying to pull off a South African accent rather than the real deal, probably because the rest of his performance doesn’t feel adequately compelling, largely because of some rather plain direction. A biopic about South Africa’s greatest icon closes with a U2 song over its closing credits. Make up your own mind.
Review by David Rank
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom is out on 03/01/13 in the UK and out now in the US . Running time 139 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).