Just the other day, James Hausman and I ranked our twenty most anticipated films of the fall and holiday season. With such a large span of time ahead of us packed with a plethora of press-heavy and buzz-soaked films all vying for media attention, box office success, and Oscar glory, it was truthfully a task to narrow the list down to just twenty. One of the film’s we had to nix from our list was Justin Chadwick’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The biopic of the epic anti-apartheid revolutionary and former South African president admittedly didn’t educe much anticipation from the Reel Reactions team, so we found it an easy candidate to cut from our exclusive list of high hopes. However, a new trailer for Chadwick’s film has surfaced online evidencing why Mandela was prompted for potential awards glory. The new trailer – embedded below – lays out the familiar beats, but there are moments of awe that suggest a reason to be excited about the film’s upcoming release just after Thanksgiving. Starring Idris Elba (HBO’s The Wire, BBC’s Luther, Thor) and Naomie Harris (28 Days Later, Skyfall), take a look at the new trailer for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and read my reaction below.
The Man of Many Accents: Some actors have a knack for accents. Michael Fassbender, for one, is a terrific rising star who has conquered a number of accents from chappie British, to sneering German, a concoction of Irish and German, American, etc. Christian Bale, of course, has successfully inherited non-Welsh accents for various characters. Hugh Laurie, of House fame, persuaded many viewers that he was actually from the states for quite a while before it was revealed that he came from across the pond. Idris Elba – Stringer Bell from HBO’s lauded crime drama, The Wire – is another accent champion. With a growling, urban sting in The Wire, I, myself, was shocked when I saw him in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla donning his actual, gentlemanly British accent. As Nelson Mandela, Elba will of course be wearing a South African accent, which this trailer makes a direct, though hardly forced, effort to ensure viewers that he has practiced proficiently. The actor’s cadence is unmistakably South African with confidence to spare; any untrained viewer could easily mistake Elba’s perfected accent as the real thing. Nailing the voice of Mandela is a significant part of the battle and thankfully the trailer reveals some…
Wellesian Makeup Work: A classic example of masterful makeup in film is the ahead-of-its-time work in Orson Welles’ opus, Citizen Kane, in which the twenty six-year-old actor aged fifty years-plus over the course of the narrative. The Mandela trailer showcases a similar transformation as Elba’s face, hair, body, and overall stature shows great age and weathering, just as the decades of discourse and imprisonment did to the real Nelson Mandela. While the trailer, being that it is for a biographical film, has the luxury of showing footage from all parts of the film without spoiling anything, it really puts the film’s makeup work front and center. We see co-star Naomie Harris age alongside her husband and the work is equally as stunning. With Elba’s presence, his fantastic accent work, and the makeup to boot, we could be looking at a first ever Oscar nomination for the actor…and for the makeup work as well.
A Real Story to Tell: Biopics can be repetitive. It’s nothing against the astonishing things that some of these people did during their lives, but making a biographical film always rubs me as a Hollywood cop out. Instead of digging deep for original content, production always flies forward on films about the deeds of some textbook individual. Liberties are taken, dates and facts are rearranged, changed, or totally fabricated/omitted and it’s always a 50/50 chance that the film is going to be any good or necessary whatsoever. With the case of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the argument is just as present, but, again, this excellent trailer goes the distance to prove otherwise. With a noted runtime of 152 minutes, it appears that the studio and the director, Justin Chadwick, have made a great effort to tell Mandela’s lengthy story. Where it starts and where it ends are of little concern – I can read about it on a Wikipedia page – but it’s how the meat of the man’s life is visually told that truly matters. The point of a biopic is to make audiences realize why a certain person is so important to our history. By recreating the surroundings and the events of a noteworthy person’s life, we can almost relive history and fall in love with these icons all over again. Great biopics like Malcolm X, Ray, Frida, Lincoln, and Man on the Moon all make a valiant effort to rebuild our past world for the screen and make a person who has long since left us actually live again. When done right, it’s refreshing, life-affirming, and educational. Mandela has a lot of material and many years to cover but the footage promises something with gravitas, and not…Invictus 2. And while Chadwick’s only other feature film credit is the period piece The Other Boleyn Girl, there’s something quite humbling about an under-the-radar filmmaker tackling something so ambitious as opposed to a Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, or Spike Lee raising it. I hope Chadwick’s vision comes together completely and gives Mandela the moving portrait he deserves.
What do you think about Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom? Will Justin Chadwick make the story come alive? Could Idris Elba score an Academy Award nomination? Sound off.
Article by Mike Murphy