Movie Reviews by Reel People: 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom'

By Ron and Leigh Martel, Columnists, The Friday Flyer


After serving 27 years in prison, South African leader Nelson Mandela triumphantly became a universal symbol of hope, humanity and humility. Although he was a noted advocate for human rights and freedom for his people, he was guilty as charged for acts of terrorism, sabotage and planning to overthrow his government.

Based on his autobiographical account, Mandela is portrayed as both a Martin Luther King Jr., and a Malcolm X. In South Africa, whites were the minority and their oppressive regime of forced segregation made our Jim Crow laws seem humane by contrast. That does not excuse his actions, but offers an explanation.

This is an important story, especially for those who consistently find themselves on the wrong side of history. British actor Idris Elba could make even Morgan Freeman proud as he captures the immaculate transformation. We learn how one remarkable human being, who was demeaned, brutalized and imprisoned, could advocate peace, forgiveness and acceptance of his tormentors for the sake of the greater good.

Mandela reasoned that if he persecuted whites based on color of skin, he would be no better than the regime he set to replace. Taking the high road is easier said than done and even more difficult when the oppression and mistreatment was so egregious. Promoting peace was more radical and revolutionary than any prior political movement.

Director Justin Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl”) offers a respectful, but fairly conventional biopic, more applicable to the History Channel, but is timely, given Mandela’s recent passing. This film will be of interest to fans as well as those unfamiliar with the events leading to that nation’s voting rights and Mandela’s eventual presidency.

Fellow Brit Naomie Harris is magnificent as his longsuffering wife Winnie. Over the years, Winnie experiences her own transformation. She changes from an innocent and loving partner to a fellow activist. When Nelson is sentence to life imprisonment, Winnie takes a leadership role in the ANC movement and serves harsh jailed sentences herself.

This chronicle of Nelson Mandela's life journey ? from his childhood in a rural village through his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa ? relies primarily on dialog over action. Screenwriter William Nicholson (“Les Miserables”) keeps the script moving and dutifully provides explanations for the uninitiated.

Mandela’s life is an inspiration to all who oppose oppression. It is said that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. In either case, the rebel will be hunted, tried and imprisoned. Mandela accepted his fate and was willing to die for his cause. What he didn’t expect was an opportunity for forgiveness that would change the world.

It’s seems unfathomable that slavery and apartheid could have been law and that state-sanctioned discrimination still exists most everywhere. It is very moving to see how Mandela addresses his deep-seated pain and torment in order to win over the hearts and minds of a nation. Naturally, some on each side are filled with so much hate they will continue the fight in their own way. The rest of us can be inspired by the wisdom and kindness that supports a peaceful and ongoing struggle for human rights.

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is 139 minutes and rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and strong language. During the London premiere, Mandela’s daughters were notified of their father’s passing. They insisted the premiere go forward. At the end of the film, co-producer Anant Singh broke the news to the audience.

Sadly, Canyon Lake icon, Dr. Vick Knight, passed away that same day. He represented some of Mandela’s qualities, but Vick would say he was simply a Knight to remember. After South Africa was free at last, free at last, Mandela admitted, “We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road.”

Ron’s Rating: B- Leigh’s Rating: B+