Saturday, January 4, 2014

Mandela: A Longer Walk Than I Expected

Something about Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom just didn't completely work as a movie to me.
It had ambition and high quality performances. It had an excellent heart. It was, after all, telling the story of one of the most interesting lives of our time. And yet, there lay it's failures. In an attempt to tell the life of Mandela, it felt as though the audience was being given perhaps too much information without enough time to get accustomed to it. Or maybe a better phrasing of this would be: too much plot, not enough substance. Now that's something you'll rarely hear me say... after all, plot (in my opinion) is the life blood of good storytelling.
So allow me to give an example... and while they may be spoiler-filled, the fact is you should probably be aware of this part of Mandela's life anyway. The MOST interesting part of the film was the relationship between Nelson and Winnie, his wife. And while things were good it felt as though we got a chance to stick with their story. But oddly, when things began to shift and their relationship went sour, we were given less and less time with the two of them. Amazing tension was inherently built into this story specifically because Winnie, in the end, became Nelson's biggest political rival... for a time. I got excited at the prospect that the second half of the movie might focus on this. But the clutter of forcing us to sit through his younger "revolutionary" days essentially left us with no time to explore the deeper message behind that relationship.
Idris Elba was quite good in the title role, though the attempts to age him as the film went on fell far below the quality I had initially expected. This certainly won't be getting any makeup nominations. The other stand out performer was Naomie Harris playing the aforementioned wife, Winnie. She's been impressing me for a little while now. Her part in Skyfall was somehow absolutely perfect. So it's exciting to witness her playing such an important role at this time of year.
While the good does outweigh the bad, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom would not crack the top 25 of 2013 for me. There were just too many missed opportunities.

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