Idris Elba is a Golden Globe-winner for his intense performance as DCI John Luther on the BBC crime series Luther (read our Season 3 review) and a fan-favorite thanks to his role on HBO’s The Wire, as well as his supporting turns in geek flicks Thor, Prometheus and Pacific Rim. The English thespian now stands to gain the title of “Oscar-nominee” during this year’s awards reason, thanks to his headlining role as Nelson Mandela in the biographical feature Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
A new international trailer for Long Walk to Freedom has been released online and, similar to the newly-unveiled international promo for The Railway Man (a fellow based-on-real-events awards season contender headlined by Oscar-winner Colin Firth), it leaves you feeling as though you’ve just watched a supercut of the film in its entirety. That said, it’s somewhat less of an issue here, since the final outcome of Mendela’s story is more familiar to the general population (though the steps along the way are less common knowledge).
On that note, here is the official synopsis for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom:
This epic motion picture spans Mandela’s extraordinary life, from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected President of South Africa. MANDELA is the thrilling story of an ordinary man who rose to the challenge of his times and triumphed – an intimate portrait of the making of a modern icon.
Judging by the Long Walk to Freedom trailer footage, Naomie Harris (Skyfall) looks to deliver a fiery performance as Nelson Mendela’s wife Winnie, who becomes a revolutionary steeped in controversy that rivals (and in some way surpasses) that which engulfs her husband throughout the film. Meanwhile, Elba has the larger task of climbing out of Morgan Freeman’s shadow – having to follow the latter’s Oscar-nominated performance as an elder Mandela in director Clint Eastwood’s Invictus – but, fortunately, he seems to have brought his intimidating acting A-game to the table. (Sidenote: Elba starts to bear more of a legitimate physical resemble to the real-life Mandela in old person makeup, similar to Robert Downey Jr. back when he portrayed Charlie Chaplin in director Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin biopic.)
Question is, have Long Walk to Freedom‘s director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) and Oscar-nominated screenwriter William Nicholson (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) crafted an artistic interpretation of South African history that is worthy of the film’s leads’ performances? Well, initial buzz from the critics who caught the feature at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival is lukewarm – as you may note by reading the review excerpts included below:
Elba makes a convincing statesman… his take on the icon is respectful and deft. Winnie is played by Naomie Harris, who charges the character with a revolutionary zeal. [However,] the film rushes through Mandela’s life and times… It’s a tick-box check-list of things you should know about the man… The greatest hits are rolled out, but there’s nothing that embraces the idea that life makes a man and informs his politics. The day-to-day is lost in the bluster.
[The film's] CliffsNotes version of Mandela’s nearly 700-page memoir never opts for a light touch when a sledgehammer will do, slathered in golden sunsets, inspirational platitudes and John Barry-esque strings that will doubtless make a certain contingent of awards voters sit up and beg for more. But for all its failings, there is one thing about “Long Walk to Freedom” that can’t be denied: Idris Elba gives a towering performance, a Mandela for the ages.
['Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom'] is straightforward storytelling of a type that’s somewhat out of fashion, but ultimately no less stirring for it… [Eventually] the two-and-a-half-hour film finds its voice and improves steadily, anchored by the conviction of the lead performance [from Idris Elba] and terrific support from Naomie Harris(Skyfall) as Winnie Mandela.
How does Long Walk to Freedom look to you? Drop us a line in the comments and let us know your early impressions, based on the reviews and trailers released so far.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom begins a limited U.S. theatrical release on November 29th, 2013.
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