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With: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, Zolani Mkiva, Simo Mogwaza, Fana Mokoena, Thapelo Mokoena, Jamie Bartlett, Deon Lotz, Terry Pheto, Zikhona Sodlaka, S'Thandiwe Kgoroge, Tshallo Sputla Chokwe, Sello Maake
Written by: William Nicholson, based on the autobiography of Nelson Mandela
Directed by: Justin Chadwick
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence and disturbing images, sexual content and brief strong language
Running Time: 139
Date: 11/29/2013

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Prison to President

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Nelson Mandela deserves a great movie about his life, and though actor Idris Elba does an admirable job capturing the man's spirit throughout many years, this particular movie is rather poor. It hits only highlights, going over important events like a checklist, without ever digging very deep. These moments come across as if they were merely fated to be, rather than occurring dramatically or naturally.

The story begins with Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) in his twenties, practicing law in Johannesburg, South Africa. He meets and marries his first wife, which ends in divorce. He becomes directly involved in the fight against apartheid, becoming a leader, and eventually turning to violence.

Meanwhile, he meets and marries Winnie (Naomie Harris), who would eventually become a national figure herself. But in 1962, Mandela's organization, the African National Congress, is declared terrorist, and he is arrested. Given a life sentence, he serves 27 years before being released in 1992. Still fighting for freedom, he runs for president and wins in 1994, wherein he begins using his influence to end apartheid.

The character comes across as an untouchable, unrealistic superhero rather than a person, and all the other people in his life appear as ciphers. The movie barely even identifies them, much less introduces them. Director Justin Chadwick -- who also made the dreadful The Other Boleyn Girl -- never seems invested in the material. Not a scene passes that doesn't seem to borrow ideas from dozens of other movies.

It's all quite passionless, although actress Naomie Harris, as Winnie Mandela, eventually gets in a few powerful moments during the second half. For the record, Clint Eastwood's Invictus is a better movie about one particular period of Mandela's life.

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