Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

Wow, timing is everything.

This is the story of the life and the times of one Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba), where we first see him as a lawyer in South Africa where he makes an honest living, has a beautiful wife-and-kid and most of all, gets along with practically everyone around him. However, he starts to clash with the local police force once he realizes that there have been numerous bouts of racism occurring around him, some that end in death, and worse, even some including his own friends. Mandela does not put-up with this and sooner than later, eventually begins to build a revolution and make his, as well as most of the Africa’s voices heard. Around this time too, he meets a lovely lady named Winnie (Naomie Harris), with whom he marries and shares the revolt with. But, as we all know, when one person has a voice that doesn’t quite go along with the conventional way-of-thinking, problems can ensue and eventually, Mandela and his fellow band of trustees are all locked-up and taken away to an island prison, where he spends 27 years of his life in. Through it all though, Mandela persevered and we see this, not just through his soul, but through his wife’s as well.

With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, I’m pretty sure that some people may feel a bit of discomfort in watching this movie. Which is fine considering that this was a real person, albeit, one that’s usually considered “one of the most influential figures of all-time”. I do not necessarily disagree with and with what little I actually do know of the man who was Nelson Mandela, I have to say that I was actually looking forward to learning more about his hardships, his activism, and basically, just his whole life in a nutshell.

Hey, they at least gave him some toilet-paper so you can't say they were all "that bad".
Hey, they at least gave him some TP, so you can’t say they were all “that bad”.

That said nutshell did just so happen to take 139-minutes to get through, and also didn’t offer me much learned either. So basically, this is just a Nelson Mandela movie for all sorts of people whom may already know Nelson Mandela, what it was that he fought for and know enough about his life as it is, and that’s basically it. In other words: He’s getting “the Hollywood treatment” here and it feels like so. However though, I can’t say that it makes this movie bad; it’s just disappointing really.

Though director Justin Chadwick may have never made anything worth writing-home about, he still does a nice job here at giving us a Nelson Mandela we usually don’t see in many movies. Or better yet, maybe not just Nelson Mandela in particular, but a subject of a biopic altogether. What we see of Nelson Mandela here is a man that may be inspired, may have the right ideas of how to run a government in a happy, peaceful way, but he isn’t perfect and the movie makes sure that we know that. He’s shown to have a bit of a short-temper, some control-issues and also can’t really seem to keep it in his pants when he’s out late at night at some club, and spots himself a fine honey that just so happens to not be his wife. Can’t say I blame him, hell, it makes him all the more human. And that’s the point!

Most biopics should (even though they usually fail to do so) present us with a realistic, honest-to-God view of their subject, without many biases involved whatsoever. You can definitely stand-behind somebody’s story and/or what it exactly was that they brought to the world, but it’s better to make sure that they get to be seen as “human”, and not just as “inspirational superheros”. At first, the movie starts off by painting Mandela as the former, but once things begin to move on, the latter starts to show and it gets rather dull after awhile.

See, we all know that Mandela was wrongfully imprisoned for speaking his mind and taking matters into his own hands on more than a few occasions, but the movie never really quite digs any deeper than that, nor shows us anything new. Mainly, we’re just subject to seeing how Mandela and his fellow anarchists lived their lives in prison, got used to the harsh surroundings, which also meant getting used to the corrupt police-system they had going on over there. The movie nails this aspect of the story more than a few times, and does well with this, but soon, it begins to get over-shadowed by what it is that Winnie Mandela herself is doing on the front-lines, out there in the “real world”. And sooner or later, Nelson’s story becomes to get far less and less interesting, and Winnie’s takes over, showing us depth, emotion and even offering us some new insights into her life, and the way she lived it at that point in time.

You go tell 'em, girl!
You go tell ’em, girl!

Every so often we’d go back to Nelson’s story, but it basically sucks all of the energy and emotional-heft of Winnie’s story that, sad to say, was keeping this movie alive and interesting. There was probably a better way to show Mandela’s 27-year-span in prison, without feeling so dry and disjointed from the rest of the movie, but it wasn’t here and it’s disappointing because what Idris Elba does as Nelson Mandela here, is some of the best acting I’ve seen him do in a long while (besides from this, of course). Elba does stretch himself here to be more than just a walking, talking “Mandela impersonator”, and he does get to the inner-kindness, as well as anger that was probably lingering inside of this man for the longest while, but it feels underused by a movie that changes itself around so much. Which, need I say, isn’t all that bad considering Winnie’s story is a lot more interesting and compelling, but come to think of it: Wasn’t this mainly supposed to be about Nelson Mandela in the first place? Didn’t we already get a Winnie Mandela biopic that absolutely nobody saw, earlier this year? Anyway, my point is that while Winnie’s story does wonders for this movie, Nelson’s is just sort of there, sucking all sorts of life out of it, not really adding much new or surprising to the tales we already know of Nelson Mandela. Other than he was a very smart, very compassionate, and very determined man, even when placed hundreds-of-millions of miles away from actual, on-going society.

But, like I was saying, Winnie’s side of the story works a lot better, and most of that has to do with the fact that Naomie Harris is just so great as here, offering us some real, unrelenting and raw insights into a person that so desperately needed them. Like for instance, Winnie does go through a whole seep of changes throughout this movie; where we first see her as meek and mild girl that instantly falls for Nelson’s big brawn and good charms, and then changes into a very angry, very violent gal that wants her man back, but most importantly, won’t stand for all of the wrongdoings her country’s government has been committing. Harris is quite believable in this role and best of all, she keeps us on the same side as Winnie, even in her most questionable moments. Even when she begins to realize that violence is in fact the answer to solving a problem, she doesn’t seem like an even, relentless queen beotch. She seems like a woman who stands up for what she believes in, and won’t stop until she gets what she wants, by any cost necessary. Nelson believed in the same ideas, but she was the one who carried out his message, while he was away wasting his precious time in prison. Then, as we know, he got out and continued to spread the good word with Winnie and we’re better humans for it. Even though it is still sad to see him gone from us, forever.

Consensus: Elba and Harris give powerful performances in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, making it worth seeing for them and them alone, but don’t expect to learn much new, or even feel all that compelled by what it is you’re seeing. Just know of the ramifications of these people’s actions and you’ll probably walk off with a smile.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Hope he remembered that moment for the next 27 years, as that was the only action he was going to get with his wife for that whole time.
Hope he remembered that moment for the next 27 years, as that was most likely the only action he was going to get from his wife for a long, long time.

Photo’s Credit to:


  1. Great review Dan, and I’m pretty excited to catch this when it hits near me. Loving Idris Elba lately and his ‘cancel the apocalypse’ speech was a perfect reference. I suppose I’m better prepared for this movie now with your review, so hopefully I’ll really enjoy it still despite it’s shortcomings

  2. Excellent write-up, as always. I’d expected a lot more from this film, and the ‘hollywood treatment’ is a real shame. I guess I have to stick with the books then.

  3. Very good write up, here, Dan! Well thought out and in depth. I am stoked for this movie. I love Elba’s work especially on “Luther” Good job,man!

  4. i agree that winnie’s story was the bigger draw here, and i wish the movie was more about her. because naomie is fantastic in the role. justin is actually acclaimed for his recent effort, The First Grader (which was critically hailed). also, i think idris was totally miscast here.

  5. Great write–up, Dan! I know shamefully little of Mandela, so I think I could benefit from watching – but I am afraid of the dryness you mentioned. That’s one of the worst qualities a film can have in my book. Excited to see what’s that great about Harris’s performance, though.

  6. Idris Elba gave a powerful performance as Mandela despite the lack of resemblance. He really captured the essence of the character, which is what matters. I appreciate seeing the Winnie side as well and their relationship. All in all a good biopic though perhaps not exactly a stupendous one.

  7. I liked your review a lot. I felt pretty much the same as you did. I was hoping for more. Now I wonder if I should see the movie Jennifer Hudson did about Winnie Mandela and get that perspective.

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