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Justin Chadwick
Idris Elba, Naomie Harris
Writing Credits:
William Nicholson (screenplay), Nelson Mandela (autobiography)

It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

This epic motion picture spans the extraordinary life story of South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela (Golden-Globe winner Idris Elba), spanning over seventy years, from his childhood in a rural village through his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa, including his struggle against apartheid and 27 years in jail.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$2,240,745 on 975 screens
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 141 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 3/18/2014

• Audio Commentary with Director Justin Chadwick
• “Mandela: The Leader You Know, The Man You Didn’t” Featurette
• “Behind the Scenes” Featurettes
• Tribute Video Gallery
• Previews
• DVD Copy


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom [Blu-Ray] (2013)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 17, 2014)

Going into the fall of 2013, I assumed Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom> would become s strong contender during “awards season”. Oscar and other entities of that sort seem to like dramatic biographies of legends such as Gandhi, so a film about Nelson Mandela seemed like a natural for critical reverence. Freedom also starred rising star Idris Elba as the lead character and in a bizarre circumstance of timing, Mandela passed right before the film’s wide release.

All of that appeared to make the film a natural to succeed and virtually critic-proof. Wouldn’t it seem like bad taste to do anything other than praise a well-meaning movie about Mandela in the wake of the man’s death?

Critics didn’t pan the film, but most found it to be flawed, and even with the natural publicity that came from Mandela’s passing, audiences skipped it. The movie made barely $8 million in the US and got virtually no boost from various award ceremonies. It garnered one Oscar nomination, and that was for a U2 song.

The movie’s lack of success discouraged me but I still felt interested to give it a look. Freedom begins in 1942 and introduces us to 24-year-old Mandela (Elba) as a lawyer in Johannesburg. The African National Congress (ANC) fights against South Africa’s racist apartheid laws and they attempt to recruit the intelligent, persuasive Mandela to their cause, but he resists.

This changes when a friend of Mandela’s (Thomas Gumede) dies due to abuse while in police custody. The incident lights a fire under Mandela and prompts his membership in the ANC, where he quickly becomes a leader. The film follows his career as an activist and eventual political prisoner as well as his personal life, especially via his relationship with wife Winnie (Naomie Harris).

Based on the reviews of Freedom, I expected a sanctimonious, overly reverential look at Mandela. Is that what I got? Sort of, though not to the degree I might have anticipated. Actually, the film’s first act paints Mandela in a fairly bad light, as it shows him to have been an egotistical philanderer who abused his first wife.

Once Nelson meets Winnie, though, the movie takes a different tone and rarely deviates from that path. While I won’t claim it depicts Mandela as a saint, it doesn’t show too many chinks in the armor, either.

I can’t say that bothers me. Seriously, what did the critics expect from a portrait of an inspirational figure? If the film sweeps some unpleasant activities under the rug, that’d be one thing, but I don’t think this occurs. While it favors his positive achievements, it also depicts more controversial affairs when necessary – after a certain point, it simply doesn’t need to do as much of this.

My biggest complaint about Freedom stems from a problem that affects many biopics: the “greatest hits reel” feel. I tend to prefer film biographies that concentrate on a specific period, as they tend to be more illuminating. What they may lose in scope they gain in depth and tend to be more three-dimensional and revealing.

This leaves Freedom as an entertaining overview of Mandela’s life but not one with particular insight. In particular, it rushes through Mandela’s pre-prison years as an activist too quickly. We see him as a major leader without much sense of what took him to that level. If the film spent more time on that topic, it would’ve been more fulfilling, but it seems to be in such a hurry to get Mandela to jail that it cuts short arguably the most interesting period of his life.

Despite some storytelling issues, Freedom does come with strengths, mainly via Elba’s excellent lead performance. He handles all facets of a challenging role with ease, as he takes Mandela from his twenties to his seventies with hardly a hitch. Elba creates a dynamic piece of work that lends strength to an often superficial film.

Harris also does well as Winnie, a role with more challenges. Whereas Freedom seems afraid to show many nuances in Nelson, it appears to be more willing to depict Winnie in a negative light. Harris makes Winnie the charming, lovely young woman and moves smoothly to the more bitter, hardened character seen later in the film.

Even with its flaws, Freedom delivers an engaging film, and at least it avoids the one-sided hagiography of Gandhi. It comes with inconsistencies but it keeps us with it.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a solid visual presentation.

Overall, I felt sharpness seemed positive. Any softness was barely noticeable, as the majority of the flick exhibited fine clarity. No signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and I witnessed no edge haloes. Print flaws remained absent in this clean presentation.

Like many period films, Freedom went with a semi-sepia feel as well as occasional golden or teal elements. Within those choices, the colors seemed fine. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows looked smooth. The image gave us a satisfying transfer.

Given the movie’s character focus, I didn’t expect a lot from the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, but it offered occasional zing. Most of the livelier moments revolved around the civil rights sequences, as they gave us some dynamic moments.

Otherwise, one should anticipate fairly atmospheric material. Music spread across the speakers well, and environmental elements added a good sense of place. There wasn’t a lot here to dazzle, but the mix suited the story.

Audio quality came across as positive. Speech seemed natural and distinctive, without edginess or other problems, while music appeared full and rich. Effects rarely taxed my system, but they were accurate and showed good range. The movie brought us a solid “B” soundtrack.

In terms of extras, we open with an audio commentary from director Justin Chadwick. He provides a running, screen-specific look at how he came to the project, research and attempts at reality, story/character areas, cast and performances, production design and cinematography, music, editing, sets and locations, and related topics.

For the most part, Chadwick gives us a good chat, though he loses steam as he goes. This means the film’s second half features less information than the first. Still, Chadwick covers the movie in a fairly satisfying manner.

Next comes the 22-minute, four-second Mandela: The Leader You Know, The Man You Didn’t. It features notes from Chadwick, journalists Tom Brokaw, Robin Roberts and Dan Rather, musicians John Legend, Randy Jackson and Sean Combs, former vice president Al Gore, producer Anant Singh, activist/former Robben Island prisoner Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada, former ANC national executive Albie Sachs, screenwriter William Nicholson, and actors Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Ben Vereen, Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg, Blair Underwood, CCH Pounder and Richard Gere. (Note that the last six don’t appear in Freedom; they’re just here to give their thoughts on Mandela.)

“Leader” looks at aspects of the history behind the story, aspects of the movie’s narrative and characters, performances and other elements of the shoot. Mostly we hear that Mandela was great and the movie is great. An occasional useful tidbit emerges, but this mostly ends up as a puff piece.

Behind the Scenes splits into four areas: “Production Design”, “Costumes & Makeup”, “Special Effects” and “Music & Sound”. All together, these fill a total of 30 minutes, 20 seconds with notes from Singh, Chadwick, Harris, production designer Johnny Breedt, Origin Pictures producer David M. Thompson, editor Rick Russell, prosthetic makeup designer Mark Coulier, prosthetic supervisor Clinton Aiden-Smith, makeup designer Meg Tanner, costume designers Diana Cilliers and Ruy Filipe, Blue Bolt’s Angela Barson and Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, VFX supervisor Stuart Bullen, musician Caiphus Semenya, composer Alex Heffers, SFX re-recording mixer Mark Taylor, dialogue editor Ian Wilkinson, supervising FX editor James Harrison, post-production supervisor Emma Zee, re-recording mixer Mike Dowson, and actor Fana Mokoena.

The pieces touch on the subjects described in the last paragraph’s first sentence. These pieces tend toward the fluffy side, as they often tell us how great the work and movie are. Still, we get decent information along the way; I’d prefer a more objective take on the topics, but we still learn some nice facts.

Within a Tribute Video Gallery, we find a 16-minute, 20-second collection of comments from various notables. These include journalists Dan Rather, Robin Roberts and Tom Brokaw, former Vice President Al Gore, actor CCH Pounder, musician John Legend and anti-apartheid activist Jeanette Carlson. They discuss their impressions of Mandela and his life. As expected, much of this falls into the category of general praise, but a few interesting memories appear from those who met Mandela.

The disc opens with ads for Fruitvale Station and Lee Daniels’ The Butler. No trailer for Freedom appears here.

A second disc provides a DVD copy of Freedom. This includes the commentary and “The Leader You Know” but lacks the other extras.

As a general overview of its subject’s life, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom offers a decent synopsis buoyed by excellent acting. However, it leaves out too many details and rushes too quickly through phases of Mandela’s life to truly satisfy. The Blu-ray brings us excellent picture as well as very good audio; supplements occasionally bring us useful material but they tend to focus too much on banal praise. Freedom offers an enjoyable experience but doesn’t quite measure up to expectations.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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