Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Produced By:  The Weinstein Company

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                Having learned about South African anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela briefly in school and seeing him in the news quite often during my lifetime, I was immediately interested when I saw previews for a new movie about the man.  I was especially interested in seeing the film after I learned that the movie was based upon Nelson Mandela's own autobiography.  I figured that Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom had the best chance of being the most accurate portrayal of the man and so, I decided to check the film out.

                The movie chronicles Mandela's life up until his inauguration as South Africa's first democratically elected president.  It begins with Nelson Mandela's narrative about a dream he has nightly in which all those he has loved in his life come to him in his childhood home.  We visit that home and see Mandela go from boyhood to the moment in which he performs his rural village's ritual of manhood.  We then jump years ahead to Nelson Mandela's life as a lawyer and ladies' man in Johannesburg.  

                It is during this period of his life that he becomes involved with working to fight the laws of segregation in South Africa.  It is also at this time that he meets first wife Evelyn Mase (Terry Pheto).  At first, he and the members of the African National Congress move peacefully against the apartheid rules of the land.  Though his marriage suffers from his loyalty to his cause and his dalliances with women who are involved in the fight against apartheid, his following increases.  He steps up his fight against unjust practices, urging his people to fight back against unjust laws.  In the meantime, he meets his second wife, Winnie Mandikizela (Naomi Harris), a spunky social worker who sees merit in Mandela's cause and admires his loyalty to it.

                As time passes and more peaceful protests are met with violence and little success, Mandela begins to preach resistance through violence.  The acts of sabotage he helps organize and helps take part in destroy property and disrupt government without loss of life, but he still finds himself hunted by the authorities and goes underground.  He is subsequently caught and sentenced to lifetime imprisonment. 

                Meanwhile, after a number of attacks on her person, imprisonment and torture, his wife Winnie takes up the fight against apartheid, using her hate against her oppressors to drive her.  She preaches violence to end oppression and gains quite a following - enough of a following that the powers that be in South Africa decide to have a conference with Mandela in hopes of ending the riots. 

                It is with much emotional and personal struggle that Mandela finally works with the government in ending apartheid.  Mandela then finds himself at odds with his own wife, whose views on how to end the institution are extremely different from his own.  Now seeking only peace among his people, Mandela urges them to work for change through voting.  His followers listen and he is elected President in 1994. 

                After years of hearing of the great things Nelson Mandela has done in his lifetime, it was refreshing to discover that Mandela was not a saint, but a human being with flaws like anyone else.  The movie depicted the charismatic leader side as well as the flawed human side equally.  We were able to see that Nelson Mandela was a man who could make mistakes and who was intelligent enough to learn from them as well. 

                A good story is nothing if the acting isn't there and Idris Alba performed quite impressively as Nelson Mandela, taking on the accent, the vocal intonation and even the facial and body movements of the man and making them his own.  Naomi Harris was equally impressive as Winnie Mandela, from her moments of spunky innocence to her anger-fed militancy of later years.  These two performances overpower all others so much so as to make them almost inconsequential despite their roles in the Mandela story.

                A common grumble to date has been that there is not enough history in this film.  Although not a scholar on the subject of Nelson Mandela, I did feel like the movie skipped over a few things.  There was that feeling of something missing, but at just over two hours in length, one could understand the director's need to keep the movie moving, focusing on the most important milestones of Mandela's life.

                Although there are many poignant moments featured in this film, my favorite words from Mandela actually come at the end of the film.  As we return to his childhood village, we hear Mandela in the background, reminding us that "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."  Of all the things Nelson Mandela should be remembered for, this intelligent insight into human nature is definitely one of the greatest.

                I found Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom to be a very honest portrait of a great man in history...honest almost to a fault.  Viewers will see the good side and the bad side of Mandela, but no man is perfect and it is sometimes important to see that side of our heroes - to remind us that they, too, are only human and can err.  The movie presents an extremely dramatic and emotional look at Mandela's life and his cause and is well worth the price of a movie ticket to see.


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