The story of Nelson Mandela’s life is certainly an inspiring one. He has touched the lives of so many people and given hope and paved the way for a better tomorrow for so many that telling his story properly becomes a great responsibility. You can’t mess this up. Too much is at stake. When it was announced that a film about his life was going to be released, I became skeptical.
This is a BIG story to tell, even at nearly two and a half hours.
While 2009 gave us a film that focused on a small portion of Mandela’s life (a portion that this film doesn’t even mention) it felt so unimportant (to the point where I never felt the slightest desire to see it, and still don’t). Despite this film’s horrible title (yes, it sounds like a Lifetime movie), the idea of covering so much of this man’s life (all of it) was such an intriguing premise that I felt a strong urge to root for this to succeed. Add to that the fact that Idris Elba deserves a role meaty enough to sustain his talent and Naomie Harris is one of those actresses who should have broken out in a big way YEARS ago, and you have me eagerly anticipating the day I can get my hands on this film.
Then it came and went without any real impact outside of that brief moment where it looked like ‘Let it Go’ was going to LOSE the Original Song Oscar (really, it never looked that way, but The Globes sent shivers) and so it left me wondering just how well this film captured all it needed to capture.
For me, ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ has the look and feel of a great Hollywood epic, but it lacks something very important; substance. I know that that sounds rather harsh and maybe even inaccurate when you consider the weight that is associated (and rightfully so) with the name Nelson Mandela, but the truth of the matter is that when the film is over the audience isn’t brought to any deeper understanding of who he is, and in all honesty his life almost feels vacant of real honest meaning.
Everything feels so superficial.
The problem with a film like this is that it tries to cover so much ground, it sacrifices key details. So little time is spent on key moments in his life that it feels so unimportant. His first marriage is basically thrown away, as is his relationship with his children, and what is even more alarming is that his fight for equality is given absolutely no depth. There is no basis for his ascension to deity among the people because we’re only really given one or two scenes of him chanting with fists in the air to show us, supposedly, that he is a great leader. His life was deeper than that, and so it was a shame to see it all get this kind of treatment. It also doesn’t help that the 27 years he spent in prison are portrayed as a mere plot point and not give their just detail. The progression of time issue that was present in ’12 Years a Slave’ was also a problem here. Those 27 years take up about thirty minutes of screen-time and they all feel so condensed. It felt like they were showing me 2 years, not 27.
The treatment this story received showed in the way the performances were crafted. Idris Elba deserved a better script and more time to develop this man, because he had so much right. His voice, his stance, his brooding all felt so alive and real and yet his character almost feels like a prop and not the center of the film. Naomie Harris, who is usually so captivating, is horribly uneven here, and again this is largely due to the fact that so many aspects of her life are given such minimal time to develop. Her numerous stints in prison fly by in a few moments and so her character’s emotional anguish and eventual hardening feel too sudden and, like the rest of this movie, superficial.
The film is beautifully lensed and the score is marvelous (not to mention those costumes and sets, which scream of authenticity and are truly eye catching) but this film needed another hour or two to really develop. Instead we are given an empty look at a rich life, and that is a true shame.
I give this a C-. It had so much going for it, but this was either edited horrifically, or the script itself was a shallow, skeletal mess and really, if that were the case, why didn't someone say something? Oh, and the song that Oscar nominated is AWFUL, so there is that.