Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: REVIEW


A moving history lesson that narrowly succeeds as a tribute to the life of Nelson Mandela. 

A sprawling biopic that spans forty years, Long Walk to Freedom aims to recount the life, failures, and accomplishments of Nelson Mandela’s story into one single long-winded film. It almost succeeds.

The true story of the man who became President of the South African nation that thirty years earlier sentenced him to life in prison is, by its very nature, inspirational. But Mandela, the film, struggles to move past that built-in inspiration, making the story its own. We sure do learn a lot about Mandela, the historical figure, but we still don’t really get to know Mandela, the man. We see his victories, his failures; but we never see what makes him tick other than his overarching desire for the freedom of his people. Which, still works mostly, but it’s hard for viewers not to feel that it fails to deliver on some of its potential.

Idris Elba is what makes Mandela what it is, though, carrying the film on his charisma and powerful performance. This will be the performance he is most likely to be remembered for. The rest of the performances are fine, as well, and the story is surprisingly engrossing despite the fact that we know what is around every corner.

+ Idris Elba’s powerful performance
+ Fitting tribute to an important world leader
+ The story never seems to drag along
+ inspiring without feeling schmaltzy
+ Educational, but…

… not that emotionally involving
 We do not come to know the character of Mandela as well as might be hoped



Mandela is a fitting tribute to the life of one of the world’s most important modern figures. Idris Elba is a triumph as the titular revolutionary, even if the script does not give him enough to work with. Long Walk to Freedom is inspirational, if a bit flat, but mostly succeeds as a educational history and a reverent eulogy of the life of Nelson Mandela.


Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is rated PG-13 for “brief language, violence, and sexual references.” The violence depicted is important within the historical context, and the few scenes of implied sexuality do not linger long enough to show anything more than passionate kissing. Older teenagers and up.

© Matt Tory, 2013. 

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