Solid long walk with the odd stumble

JAMES CROOT
Last updated 05:00 26/01/2014
Mandela Long Walk to Freedom

TOUGH ASK: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom finds it hard to cram the great man's life down into two hours.

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REVIEW: MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (M) 147 mins

A throwback to old-school biopics like Gandhi and Malcolm X, it's hard not to view Justin Chadwick's film without comparison to Clint Eastwood's Mandela movie, Invictus.

Essentially a prequel to that 2009 tale, this chronicles the recently departed (news of his death came through during the film's London premiere) former South African president's early life, coming of age, education and near three decades in captivity - from his time as a lawyer helping maids in distress and antagonising whites who didn't like airing their dirty laundry in public, to his role in the transition of power to the black majority.

But in chronologically trying to cram in half a century of incident-packed life into two hours, rather than building it around a single event a la Eastwood, there's a whole feeling of once-over-lightly about the end product.

That's not to say this is an Edge-guitar riff-infused (U2 provides the end track and a few extra licks) hagiography - far from it.

Young Mandela is portrayed as a bit of a womaniser who cared for all the children of South Africa "except his own".

But it's just that apart from second-wife Winnie (Naomie Harris) no-one else gets much of a look in, with characters thinly sketched in William Nicholson's screenplay, based on Mandela's own 1995 book of the same name.

As for the man himself, Luther's Idris Elba does a sterling job, with only the occasional inflection preventing him from nailing the accent and some over-enthusiastic makeup ageing him somewhat prematurely.

While some will no doubt say Morgan Freeman was born to play the part (and did so in Invictus), it was a smart decision to cast someone who could play him across the decades.

Less sure is Chadwick's use of archival footage and news reports which only occasionally dot proceedings and actually have the effect of taking the audience out of the dramatic narrative.

However, if the dialogue is a touch obvious ("have you heard about this group called the ANC?"), the film at least creates the right atmosphere through sound and cinematography, even if the opening is a little too Lion King and Chadwick a mite too fond of lens flare.

A more than solid if not exactly subtle South African history primer.

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- Sunday Star Times

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