Justin Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl”) from the screenplay provided by William Nicholson (“Gladiator” and “Les Miserables”) manages to narrate the complex life of Madiba at over a lengthy run of 140 minutes but is not without disappointment. The movie goes all the way by using that formulaic Hollywood approach in running down the narration with derivative pacing. The plot is bloated with historical checks and facts that it barely touches on the essence and better details on the everyday of his life. This movie works more like a routine documentary than a more vivid cause-and-impact story-telling that illuminates in the end.
The opening act swifts at fast-paced and interlarding accounts which goes through the early years of Mandela as a Johannesburg-based lawyer, a ladies-man and later involvement with African National Congress (ANC) on a short-lived armed struggle. Of course, he was then arrested and charged for sabotage which clearly marks the transition for a lengthy spell of act two as well the final act which is still again being dutiful but dull. The plot is complete though as it covers a large portion of Mandela’s life up until his release from 27-year of imprisonment and national reconciliation.
But the imprisonment story is not well-handled although the emotion and intention do co-exist, while is also effectively saved, thanks to an incredible performance by Idris Elba as Madiba and Naomie Harris on the opposite, playing his second wife Winnie. The most disappointing fact is that this, seemingly the most important arc and era in the whole movie seems often than not, derails and struggles to keep in pace. With so often we see different sections of life been thrown together, the construction of the plot is far from satisfying. The reincarnation scenes of several key uprisings during the Apartheid like the Soweto and Sharperville incidents are relatively mediocre.
Looking on the bright side, nevertheless, the story of Mandela as presented in this movie is still vigorously inspiring, aggressive and punctual when the plot takes it to the higher ground. This movie is clearly a movie that puts you into the morality-ambiguous journeys that showcase the talents of its two impeccable amazing leads. Elba may not have the exact stroke of Mandela but his captures the charisma well. So does Harris whose performance as Winnie strokes a contrast in belief and aspiration.
In the end, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is an outright unbalance autobiography that are so stilted, occasionally dull, too cautious and dutiful to the life of Nelson Mandela, yet still offering a good story, aggressive and somewhat inspiring thanks to Elba and Harris’ performances. Side note: There is no need for clear-cut comparison with Clint Eastwood's "Invictus" because both are basically different.