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Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

The Wolf Of Wall Street

January 2, 2014

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (** 1/2) PG-13

There are worse ways to put together a biopic of the recently deceased Nelson Mandela than what director Justin Chadwick has chosen to do with his film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that this isn’t quite the screen treatment that Mandela’s inspiring story so richly deserves. There are several reasons why but I think most of the blame may fall in the script department, a screen story which insists on covering fifty plus years of Mandela’s life in the space of just a little over two hours. The most successful biopics seem to be those that limit their scope to some incident in the life of its character, as Steven Spielberg attempted last year with his portrait of Lincoln. Compressing fifty-two years of a man’s life into such a small amount of time is certainly asking for trouble. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom definitely bites off more than it can chew and never manages to successfully swallow everything swirling about.

Mandela (Idris Elba) is introduced to us as a teenaged boy undergoing some tribal initiation. And this is where the film first goes off the tracks as it jumps ahead to Mandela’s career as a trial lawyer, then throws in a few scenes of the man learning to box before letting the audience in on the dirty little secret of Mandela’s philandering. His tendency to be a ladies man early on is dealt with and I’ll give the filmmakers credit for humanizing Mandela and not attempting to paint the man as a total saint. The problem is the technical fashion with which all this was dealt as the film jumps around from scene to scene with little coherency or sense of emotional connection to the character.

Photo: Idris Elba, l, as Mandela, in Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

The second hour of the film depicts Mandela’s 27-year imprisonment and this turns out to be the emotional core of the film. After meeting and marrying his second wife, Winnie (Naomie Harris), Mandela only has a few years of marital bliss until his life is disrupted by his imprisonment, brought on by his choice of violent retaliation in response to Africa’s policy of apartheid. Winnie is subsequently imprisoned as well, leaving the couple’s daughters to grow up on their own. The scene where Mandela sees his then-teenaged daughter for the first time in over a decade is the kind of stuff I would have liked to have seen more of in the film. The remainder of the pic dramatizes Mandela’s release from prison, the decision to end his marriage, and his ascendency to the position of president of his country.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom has some truly moving moments lost among the shuffle, just not enough of them. The generally good performances are certainly believable but the filmmaker’s choices never really allow the human connection to shine through. That’s what the picture so desperately needs. It’s a shame that a man of such stature doesn’t get a cinematic send off that he truly deserves.

The Wolf of Wall Street (***) R

What can you possibly say about a film that opens with a scene depicting dwarves being tossed at a target on a wall by emotionally hardened Wall Street brokers who have more money at their disposal than there are ways in which to spend it?  I’m not really sure, but I certainly can understand the furor that has erupted over The Wolf of Wall Street, one that has clearly divided movie audiences and critics into solid groups of hate or love it. There’s most assuredly no middle ground here. It isn’t that kind of film.

Scenes like the aforementioned one turn up repeatedly in director Martin Scorsese’s latest portrait of the American thug, a film that’s many things, but mostly a portrait of greed and consumerism run rampant in the late 80s/early 90s. It’s based on the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale of the life and times of Jordan Belfort. Belfort was, in real life, a Wall Street broker who found out early in the game that selling worthless junk bonds, referred to as ‘penny stocks’ in the film, was his one-way ticket to the American dream. And live it he did by engaging in nearly every possible excess imaginable—and some best left to the imagination—most of which are depicted in the film.

Belfort is perfectly embodied in The Wolf of Wall Street by Leonardo DiCaprio in his seventh collaboration with Scorsese. DiCaprio’s performance grounds the film as he snorts (figuratively and literally), sneers, rants, rages, and roars throughout the proceedings. It’s a performance that brings to mind the acting highs attained in such films as the 1976 classic Network. It’s a performance bursting with energy, intensity, and the sense of irreverence that the character calls for, and he gives it all he’s got. It also gets the film through some slower stretches from time to time.

Photo: Hill and DiCaprio as creepy, greedy men in ‘Wolf’

The film’s template is the rags to riches story we’ve seen before in films dealing with subjects of this nature. It begins with some interesting scenes depicting Belfort being mentored by a broker (Matthew McConaughey, in another powerhouse performance) who plants the seed inside of him that it’s more important to make money for yourself than the client, a piece of advice that Belfort will take heed of when he eventually strikes out on his own after chancing to meet the shady Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). Azoff, a character with many questions begging to be answered, quickly becomes Belfort’s second in command. They, along with a rag-tag group of nefarious con men and swindlers that the two men have assembled, attempt to reach unimaginable financial heights and achieve them they do. The question is, ‘At what price?’

It’s hard to imagine that the film is directed by a someone 71 years old.  The film pops and crackles with the vitality of a filmmaker half Scorsese’s age. And yet, The Wolf of Wall Street does tend to veer toward over length. At least thirty minutes could have been shaved off and audiences would not have minded. Still, it’s hard to dislike a film with as much visceral punch as this one.

Both of these films are playing at the Carmike in Hickory, and other area theaters.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at



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