Imperfect Mandela Boasts Worthy Performances and Ideals
- Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Release Date: December 25, 2013
Rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence and disturbing images, sexual content, and brief strong language)
Run Time: 139 min
Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, Lindwe Matshikiza, Terry Pheto
Nelson Mandela became one of the towering international figures of the 20th century, with a global influence that ranked alongside the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and even ascended to the top of the political structure that once oppressed him. The biopic Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom takes a lionizing - and fairly standard - look at the life of this South African revolutionary, while also contextualizing the more debated aspects of his life that led some to label Mandela a terrorist – even in death.
Like the most traditional film biographies, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom does its best in two-plus hours to serve as a highlight reel of the man’s entire life. That approach has grown tired, generally speaking, as more recent biographies have focused on central moments within a figure’s story (like the recent Lincoln) that defined the life as we’ve come to historically know it. But the cast – led by emerging star Idris Elba (Prometheus) in the title role – imbues this history lesson with conviction and vigor, which makes it compelling and worthwhile if not entirely powerful.
Rising from tribal roots, Nelson Mandela achieved the dreams of his parents: he received an education and, eventually, became a lawyer. But as the minority white population developed its political stranglehold (which came to be known as Apartheid), Mandela found himself evolving from an administrator of the law to one who rebelled against it. Not only did the law leave no recourse for the oppressed but it didn’t even hold true to the ideal of equality like, say, the U.S. Constitution did for Martin Luther King, Jr. Apartheid was not a "separate but equal" oppression; it was legalized racism that defined Africans as less than fully human.
In Mandela’s early adult years, we see him both as a vibrant and respected member of the community while also philandering around behind his first wife’s back. He was a man of passion, expressed both in altruistic and selfish ways. As a member of the rebel political group The African National Congress, Mandela became a leader through his powers of speech and persuasion on the streets of Soweto, Cape Town, and elsewhere. But as years of peaceful protests led nowhere, Mandela and the ANC resorted to targeted bombings in the 1960s. That led to his imprisonment – along with his closest ANC allies – for nearly three decades.
The combination of his political action and personal sins led to the dissolution of Mandela’s first marriage. Family would continue to serve both as catalyst for and victim of Mandela’s call, most notably in his second marriage to Winnie, a union first defined by solidarity that ultimately disintegrated. Nelson’s incarceration was a key factor, but even more so was Winnie’s embrace of tactical violence (we see her use of "necklacing" to punish fellow Africans deemed traitors to the cause by burning them alive with a gas-filled tire around their necks) while Nelson was growing more practical, political, and pacifistic.
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