Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom comes out at an unfortunate and relevant time. Earlier this month, Nelson Mandela died. Through this movie we can follow his suffering and triumph. The film tells the story of his life as a young man, to his time in prison, and then his eventual rise to power. It focuses mainly on the black South African’s fight for equal rights and the effects it has on upon Mandela and his family.
Mandela is played by Idris Elba who gives an outstanding performance that conveys Mandela’s charismatic public persona and later the depth of his emotional wounds. The supporting cast is full of solid yet mostly forgettable performances. While Naomie Harris does have some good moments as Winnie Mandela, Nelson’s second wife, those moments aren't enough to overcome the problems with her story line, which feels unnecessary and out of place considering the rest of the film we see and hear everything with Mandela. I would much rather have had the point of view remain consistent letting the audience react with Mandela as we do with one of the other events during his prison sentence. Instead we get too little of his wife to see her develop yet too much seemingly only to remind the audience that she is still out there.
The only other moments we stray from Mandela are a couple montages filmed in a pseudo live television coverage format and overlaid with music that doesn't fit the subtle score that compliments the rest of the film. While they try to give a sense of the civil unrest that is consuming the country they fail miserably because most don't provide any context and are finished so quickly that I didn't have time to absorb them. Lastly, the film had problematic intermittent dream sequences. Out of the few in the film there was one that was successful while the rest seem to foreshadow events that happen only a minute or two later.
Overall I enjoyed the film and it excels when Elba is on screen. The film struggles when the story strays from the immediate involvement of Mandela, but luckily these moments are too few to detract too much from the experience.