In the push for holiday entertainment, moviegoers may be ignoring one of the better films playing in theaters right now. Not that I can criticize anyone who would rather not be reminded of such things as racism, institutional injustice and violence during a time we like to reserve for gift-giving and family togetherness. That said, the film “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is worth a view.
The main reason is obvious: Nelson Mandela, more so than most other political leaders I can name, ended up turning away from violence and opting for a policy of forgiveness aimed at the very people who had virtually enslaved his people and made him a criminal. Yet to portray Mandela as a perfect human being would be no only dishonest but wrong, and the film avoids that trap: Just 18 minutes in, “Long Walk to Freedom” shows the man breaking some fairly basic vows. The movie had me from that point on because I was fairly certain it was going to temper reverence with at least a version of the truth.
Overall, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” works best because of the performance by Idris Elba. Famous for playing both Stringer Bell in the HBO miniseries “The Wire” and DCI John Luther in the BBC miniseries “Luther,” Elba — though not a physical match for the man he portrays — manages to capture the speech patterns and the contrasting emotions facing a man who ends up losing 27 years of his life in prison yet ends up freeing his people.
“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is a holiday film in the best meaning of that term.