In Loving Memory.
146 Minutes. Starring: Idris Elba & Naomie Harris. Director: Justin Chadwick.
Where do I begin this? I've been thinking of how to write this and pay my respects to Madiba the right way ever since the dearly departed left us to close last year. With all the social-media tributes to late celebrities from everyone from Paul Walker to James Avery I wanted to do something more than just a hash-tag trend or 'like' attraction for one of the greatest men the world has ever known. We all have our stories and memories of South Africa and the worlds Nelson Mandela. Mine takes me back almost a decade, where down in debt and depression I picked up stacks of books I brought and never read in order to finally turn a page of inspiration and intention. There was everything from autobiographies to novels from all walks of life, but it was words from inspiring figures that captured and sat me down the most from Basketball hero Magic Johnson to life's inspiration Martin Luther King Jnr. Still, when I started with Mandela's epic 750 page autobiography it all changed. Part way through reading this book slowly, he ended a chapter with the beginning of his 27 year imprisonment. Even if it was half 3 in the A.M. I wasn't putting this book down now. Quickly finishing this long read of insight and inspiration I was moved to read more and more and pick up the pen and start writing myself. Almost 10 years, countless articles, songs to the tune of everyday work and some publishing success later and I haven't put down the pen or books since. See the inspiration? See what it all means? This is just one small, insignificant story that leads me today to write about this film based on the same autobiography, 'Mandela: Long Road To Freedom', that tells the story of a man that has done so much more for the world in the name of peace like men like Martin Luther King Jnr, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama and even entertainers like Ali, Dylan or Lennon. Nobody has ended race-wars and pure hatred with acts of love and kindness however like the redemption, unforgettable forgiveness and peaceful revolution of Madiba himself Nelson Mandela. That is how simple but life changing his legacy is and the legend of that is told here in this monumental movie for this age.
Now who could even do justice to this great man by even trying to portray him? Well, thankfully we have some incredible acting talent who can at least do justice with their just talents. Morgan Freeman was the perfect lookalike and mannerism, genuine intention act-a-like for Clint Eastwood's 'Invictus', Rugby World Cup game changer with Matt Damon, that is an underrated classic in all these legends filmography and biography history films in themselves. Still with 'The Other Boleyn Girl' director Justin Chadwick's formidable framework he directs the right man and next great actor regardless of race or nationality (the separation of acting talent into race categories (e.g. "the next Denzel") needs to stop) in the British intelligence (yeah, okay I said it) of Idris Elba. A small-screen movie masquerading hit-maker that has made his way to the big time and blockbuster big-screen, by breaking America like fellow Brit Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is about to inspire history lessons even further with his all-star, all-essential '12 Years As A Slave' viewing that looks to be even more moving from audiences to Academies. From the drug-dealing grittiness of Baltimore in 'The Wire' to policing the other side of the law in a bleak and cold London in 'Luther', Elba has helped this new generation of television being like movies that has earned him the right to act in things like the 'Thor' franchise and 'Prometheus', all while building quite the hip soul signing career on the side himself as Driis. This is a guy who this year was rumored to turn the page and flip the script and at one time be both the new James Bond and Doctor Who for British fans...I guess he'll just have to settle for one of the worlds most iconic figures in history instead. Tooodaaay however if you thought it couldn't get more inspiring than the 'Independence Day' like speech of 'Pacific Rim', then wait until you see him cancel all those notions here. Delivering some of Mandela's most powerful prose with dignity and distinction this performance of the ages by Idris is as subtlety strong as the man Mandela himself. This, right now is the rising actors legacy even in his incredible and diverse range of accepted scripts. As a young Madiba Idris stands out in his own right for a just cause, but as make-up and more movingly mannerisms match the voice and the age of the later years you can hardly tell it's one of the hottest actors in Hollywood anymore...and that's a good thing. Even Mandela himself watching the iconic mountain scene before his passing, thought he was watching himself. That's not just good "shirt" acting as my father said, that's a legendary capturing of perfection. Like Will Smith as Ali, or Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles it's more than an impression, it's inspiration.
Still there was more to Mandela than just himself and there is more than Idris Elba that makes this picture perfect. If our lead ever does manage to keep it shaken and stirred as 007 than he can count on his Moneypenny as Naomie Harris is incredible as Winnie Mandela. After years of being picked up by Hollywood for things like 'Miami Vice' and 'Pirates Of The Caribbean' this British hot property has really returned to form and home with last years 'Skyfall'. Now however just like her on-screen partner-who she has also been a part of the '28 Later' franchise (albeit different films) this is her moment. She is incredible as Winnie with a real, raw unflinching look at exactly what this woman did for the movement and her own revolution. The darker side of the Mandela fight for freedom is shown through her eyes here as Nelson's ideals of turning all the hatred into love is not shared by his opposite-thinking wife, much like the M.L.K/Malcolm X distinction divide. Winnie's violent response to violence was wrong in unbearable and unthinkable ways but what Harris and this film does is present and put it all on the plate without judgement or celebration like a true, historical, account of the facts should. This is even mirrored in Mr. Mandela's own raw and redemptive road to freedom from prison to politics. This is no half Nelson but instead a full term of how it all happened regardless of opinion or omission. Fact for fact this is as real and raw as it gets and there is not better testimonial or tribute to the man himself than this. This is just right. With no Hollywood gloss or fluff the dark days of a man who saw the light are unflinchingly delivered. It's the kind of true honoring that goes beyond anything else and puts this film and its performances right there with the unquestionable all-too-real, unfairly all-too-forgotten 'Hotel Rwanda' Don Cheadle classic career moment. As necessarily harrowing and haunting as that or a 12 certificate film can be this is a crucial education on the history of a man who has just left this generation and whose teaching needs the right lesson if he is to be remembered correctly and rightly.
The fall and rise of this incredible man that fought war with peace is what makes him so influential and what makes this story so inspirational. This is a man that overcame 27 long and guard brutality years of imprisonment on an island to setting everybody free. A change really did come from a man whose heart and soul overcame all the hurt and sorrow that come with a lonely walk to decades drawn and down emancipation. There's even more incredible support in this film from 'Blood Diamond' and coincidentally 'Hotel Rwanda' actor Tony Kgoroge, as Madiba's closest ally Walter Sisulu. Kgoroge is so underrated it's almost criminal, his experience also appeared differently and dynamically in the other Mandela biopic 'Invictus', that stands next to this one differently but with it's own distinction. In fact Freeman's walk of freedom picks up where Elba's emancipation leaves off, making these two brilliant biopics the perfect story-tellers side-by-side. There's no competition here just compassion for a man whose incredible long life's work and journey is too much to fit in one almost two and a half hour film or 750 page book (no matter how hard this one make-up and tries) which is why there are more 'Conversations', books and biopics I'm sure to come. As iconic and decades made influential Idris Elba's perfect and pleasing yet powerful performance is, it's all about the work of the man they are honoring. A film that if you would say has come at the right time if you looked at it through the really wrong eyes of the over-marketing and saturating cinema money-making campaigning has in actual fact a different vision. A vision of tribute that was long created and crafted before this great man was sick. A vision of testimony that now starts and raises the bar for the biopics that will come next, but one that should remain with 'Invictus' as just that, one-of-a-kind movies that are done out of respect and our dignified to not be duplicated by others in their own right. As this film shows the rise and walk of a man whose feet where torn through the years of tension and toil, but paves the way for Freeman and Eastwood's sporting shot and the actual real-life work of the man himself that should be studied by the book, this and Mandela's life is so much more. Rightfully so this is all done in the right way for a man whose life's work and legacy shouts louder and walks taller than this script or any one speech or movement can or has done. It's why you can sit next to your friend of a different creed and just have a conversation without conflict. It's as simple as that but means so much more and it's why although this film won't change the world, it gives hope to the ongoing teachings of a man that actually did...and that is what is best for the people. That is what is best for everybody. TIM DAVID HARVEY