Writer: William Nicholson (screenplay), Nelson Mandela (autobiography)
Stars: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa
Release date: January 3rd, 2014
Distributors: 20th Century Fox, The Weinstein Company
Countries: UK, South Africa
Running time: 146 minutes
Best part: Elba and Harris.
Worst part: The confused narrative.
Throughout the 20th century, certain political figures and celebrities reached for the stars. They ignored backlash and threats to conquer their dreams and make the world a better place. This may seem sappy, but humanity’s more positive aspects can reshape the world’s structures. One such person was Nelson Mandela. Mandela comes to mind at opportune moments. Mandela proved that one person really could make a difference. With his death shattering the world last year, he was an inspirational public figure and determined human being. Inevitably, biopics about this spectacular man, over the past decade, have come thick and fast.
The most recent entry in this blissfully specific genre, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, wholeheartedly strives to blanket his immense life story. This broad and aimless docudrama travels down a familiar road. Covering typical biopic trappings, the movie becomes a vacuously unsuccessful Oscar-hungry monster. Looking back on Mandela’s significant life story, the movie’s wavering and untrustworthy reach exceeds its weak grasp. However, despite the wasted potential, it still features several overwhelmingly commendable qualities. Despite this enthralling tale, the movie explores and comments on too much at once. Despite my harsh words, these criticisms are warranted. To take on a project of this magnitude, studios must step back, hire commendable writers and directors, and let certain biopics follow specific paths. Sadly, this production’s producers and studios sugarcoat this fascinating narrative. Long Walk to Freedom begins with a teenage Mandela embracing South Africa’s rich tribal culture. Becoming one with the four elements, Mandela convinces himself he’s ready for a purposeful and daunting life. The movie then jumps forward, and a 30-something Mandela (Idris Elba) is presented as the black community’s spirited saviour. Standing up for innocent civilians in court, he becomes a prolific symbol of black power and freedom. Protesting legislation changes as part of the African National Congress, Mandela promotes equality whilst speaking out against apartheid.
Biopics usually go one of two ways: either focusing on specific parts of a person’s life (Lincoln) or depicting timelines covering everything from humble beginnings to untimely deaths (Ghandi). Despite this story’s commendable aspects, Long Walk to Freedomdoesn’t deliver new information. Everyone with some knowledge of global affairs is aware of Mandela’s immense power and courage. Relying intensely on well-known facts and archival footage, the movie delivers a broad and underwhelming account of Mandela’s journey. The movie’s tagline reads: “Revolutionary. Prisoner. President”. Sadly, the movie provides precious little depth beyond these three significant words. Here, Mandela’s actions, motivations, and internal conflicts are under-utilised. The movie never examines Mandela’s ethical, spiritual, and moral codes. Presenting this strong-willed man as an all-encompassing symbol, the movie resembles a statue. Admittedly, this is a strange statement. However, like a statue, the movie presents a towering presence without utilising emotional weight or humanistic qualities. In addition, Long Walk to Freedom is just as static. Despite its inspirational narrative, this cumbersome biopic is inflicted with clumsy pacing and jarring tonal shifts. Screenwriter William Nicholson (Gladiator) inconsistently juggles this story’s cognitive and note-worthy qualities. Awkwardly lurching from one important event to the next, Mandela’s life is summed up in brief sequences. Throughout the first third, this biopic shifts from one incident, momentous moment, and ideal to another without warning. Confusingly, Mandela himself hurriedly transitions from womanising lawyer, to sensitive family man, to proud revolutionary. Despite the speeches and exposition, the movie doesn’t deliberate on his story’s most informative and miraculous qualities. Unfortunately, Long Walk to Freedom becomes The Butler’s slightly more interesting counterpart. Sharing similar structural, thematic, and dramatic issues, these movies delve only skin deep into all-important narratives.
“It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba), Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).
Idris Elba & Naomie Harris.
Obviously, Mandela’s journey is a significant part of black history. Recently, Hollywood has explored this overarching topic to uncover relevant stories whilst developing inspired creations. From big-budget fare (Django Unchained) to enrapturing docudramas (12 Years a Slave), cinema has placed an effecting stranglehold on this conquering issue. With minorities receiving harsh treatment across the globe, historically impactful stories defy prejudice and social anxiety. Despite its narrative shifts, Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, by depicting one specific period of Mandela’s life story, captured his ideologies and motivations. Despite its social, political, and cultural value, Long Walk to Freedom inadvertently presents itself as ‘yet another’ Mandela biopic. Unfortunately, like J. Edgar, Long Walk to Freedom stumbles before reaching its subject’s most remarkable conflicts. Thankfully, the stellar production design provides several stimulating intricacies for this tedious biopic. Director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) revels in this time period’s distinct colours, moods, and flavours. Presenting remarkable scenic vistas and tangible city settings, Chadwick’s attention to detail delivers an unconscionable portrait of apartheid-stricken South Africa. Each setting and costume efficiently bolsters this uncompromising and accurate depiction of Mandela’s journey. In particular, the prison sequences are painful reminders of man’s overwhelming inhumanity throughout history. Thankfully, this shapeless biopic is salvaged by two invigorating performances. Elba, known for conquering TV series’ (Luther, The Wire) and entertaining action flicks (Pacific Rim, Thor), boosts this dreary and conventional biopic. Despite lacking Mandela’s distinctive appearance, Elba overcomes previous roles whilst immersing himself in this breathtaking journey. Exploring Mandela’s native language and distinctive accent, Elba’s towering portrayal unconscionably elevates this confused Oscar contender. Elba – thanks to his impressive physique – presents Mandela as a fighter and fearsome leader. Naomie Harris also delivers a charismatic performance. As Mandela’s determined wife Winnie, Harris embodies her character’s searing pain and overwhelming courage.
Sporting two impressive performances, stark production values, and an impactful marketing campaign, Long Walk to Freedom hurriedly immerses its mass audience into this sprawling tale. Unfortunately, the movie lacks the intelligence, sturdy structure, and efficient screenplay needed for this intriguing premise. Despite the writer, director, and Weinstein Company’s commendable intentions, this biopic is obliterated by hasty studio decisions, gigantic preconceptions, and tedious biopic cliches.
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson
Release date: February 12th, 2014
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures
Running time: 118 minutes
Best part: The exhilarating action sequences.
Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.
Despite his on-set temper and direction’s occasional clunkiness, Paul Verhoeven, in the late 1980s and early 90s, was one of Hollywood’s most versatile and entertaining directors. From sex-fuelled thrillers (Basic Instinct), to satirical action flicks (Starship Troopers), to warped sci-fi extravaganzas (Total Recall), Verhoeven’s style injected flair, punchiness, and wit into intriguing premises. Shaping contemporary audiences to fit new styles and sub-genres, his kitschiness pushed modern moviemaking into overdrive. Sadly, since then, his prized works have been beaten beyond recognition. After Len Wiseman’s lacklustre Total Recall remake bombed miserably, the oncoming RoboCop remake lost credibility and viewer interest.
Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy/RoboCop.
In addition, crippling production issues threatened to throw this remake’s ambitions into disrepute. Hollywood, delivering several big-budget movies with major production quarrels last year, inexplicably illuminates its own embarrassing missteps. Beyond this obvious “blockbusters kill cinema!” agenda, major studios contain enough resources to overcome minor issues whilst delivering engaging final products. Unfortunately, controversy strengthens the link between major studios and the media. My ‘perfect world’ aspirations, unsubtly, connect with RoboCop‘s distorted universe. Despite the obvious agenda, I must commend this remake for immediately hitting its stride whilst developing original ideas. Despite the over-the-top reboot/remake/reimagining PR debacle, I became inexplicably entranced by this explosive action flick. RoboCop, despite its overwhelming flaws, becomes an engaging and exhilarating thrill-ride unafraid of negative hype. Despite exploring the original’s veracious intricacies, this is an ambitious, dour, and inferior remake. Here, the plot delves head-on into its overwhelming thematic aspects. Set in the not-too-distant future, the remake becomes a visceral and slick buddy cop flick. Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) scours his city for criminals and corruption. Murphy and police partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) are tasked with tracking down vicious mobster Anton Vallon (Patrick Gallow). Convinced that several co-workers are tied to Vallon’s organisation, Murphy’s pragmatic style lands Lewis in hospital. After a horrific car explosion, Murphy’s physical, emotional, and mental structures are destroyed. Meanwhile, technology conglomerate OmniCorp looks down on America’s liberal ideals. Pushing for robotic lawmen to patrol American cities, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) strives for a revelatory creation. Against Chief Scientist Dr. Dennett Norton(Gary Oldman)’s valued opinion, Sellars develops a half-man-half-machine invention. From this point forward, the movie transitions into a thought-provoking and intense sci-fi actioner. After turning Murphy into a cyborg warrior, Norton and Sellars’ conflict reaches breaking point.
Gary Oldman & Michael Keaton.
Their feud, sparked by ethical and moral differences, drives the narrative. Bravely, this remake takes the methodical and heavy-handed route. Here, sci-fi tropes are examined and deconstructed to develop this laboured story. Despite its positive elements, the original vastly exceeds its tech-savvy remake. The 1987 original’s ridiculousness, style, satirical edge, glorious violence, and humour elevates Verhoeven’s feature above predictability and tedium. Despite towering over the Total Recall remake, unexplored ideas and generic modern-blockbuster tropes savagely infect RoboCop. With frustrating studio methodologies rejecting original ideas and effective storytelling motifs, this remake becomes another po-faced and forgettable action flick. The narrative, borrowing from the original and other influential sci-fi flicks, takes several uninspired twists and turns throughout its exhaustive run-time. Courageously elevating this repetitive story, director Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) effectively re-creates the original’s most note-worthy sequences. Changing specific scenes’ most iconic aspects, Padilha’s affection for 80s sci-fi cinema becomes a vital asset. Here, Murphy’s attempted murder, avoiding the original’s pulsating gore, is a quick and costly event. However, Padilha awkwardly handles several major references. Including the original’s most famous line (“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me”), the movie debilitatingly stalls during these ineffectual moments. In addition, the movie mishandles its brash political agenda. Sitting atop the Bald Eagle’s right wing, this crowd-pleaser impulsively projects jingoistic and overblown messages. Mistaking thematic relevance for satire, Padilha and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer’s creation jarringly shifts from punishingly serious to heartily enjoyable and vice versa. Commenting on gun control, military power, totalitarianism, foreign policy, government practices, corruption, and ethically questionable medical tests, the movie leaves no stone unturned. Breaking the fourth wall, Samuel L. Jackson’s aura salvages the movie’s blunt attempt at satire. The Novak Element, featuring Jackson’s Bill O’Reilly/Glenn Beck-type character Patrick Novak, deliberates on the movie’s outrageously fascist ideologies.
“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.” (Alex Murphy/RoboCop (Joel Kinnaman), RoboCop).
Samuel L. Jackson.
Despite RoboCop‘s outlandish agenda and cliched narrative, Padilha’s direction bolsters this listless remake. Known for relentless action sequences and startling grittiness, his style lends this remake a punchy and electrifying identity. Unfortunately, the original’s sprawling violence and unflinching practical effects aren’t included. This bloodless and brainless remake sorely lacks emotional weight and creativity. This blatant studio decision, attracting a family-wide audience, lacks the original’s more memorable and significant aspects. Thankfully, the remake’s action sequences, ignoring the original’s clunky shootouts, are the movie’s most valuable assets. Borrowing from John Woo and Neill Blomkamp, Padilha’s clever and kinetic action-direction immerses us into emphatically dangerous situations. Despite its family-friendly violence, Padilha’s style throws surprises and “f#ck yeah!” moments into each set-piece. Despite its prominence in the trailer, the abandoned warehouse sequence is an energetic and adrenaline fuelled segment. Here, Murphy/RoboCop becomes an intelligent and enthralling symbol for justice and heroism. The movie’s kick-ass moments, including its explosive prologue and pulsating climax, elevate RoboCop above similar sci-fi action remakes. Unfortunately, Padilha’s direction doesn’t elevate the movie’s inconsistent performances. Kinnaman, known for TV series The Killing, excels as the family man/robotic crime-fighter. With his unique physical presence and gruff tone, Kinnaman pushes through several of the movie’s worst lines. Meanwhile, collecting hefty paycheques, Oldman and Keaton deliver enjoyable performances in valuable supporting roles. Known for separate Batman franchises, their monumental talent and instant chemistry elevates the mediocre material. Unfortunately, Jackson, sporting Mitt Romney’s hairdo, delivers his loudest performance since his controversial Bet 365 commercials. Despite his inherent charm, his character is a useless and ineffectual obstacle.
Brushing past preconceptions and negative hype, the RoboCop remake is an enjoyable action flick. However, Zetumer’s screenplay delivers concentrated doses of right-wing paranoia and sci-fi blockbuster cliches. Thankfully, Padilha’s electrifying direction rescues an otherwise forgettable remake. Hopefully, if given greater control, Padilha can create more memorable and relevant action flicks in the not-too-distant future.