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The Power of One: "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"

Film is a fair tribute to Mandela's towering legacy

Idris Elba and Riaad Moosa in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." Photo by Keith Bernstein ??" © 2013 - The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved.

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Nelson Mandela. That he doesn't require any introduction beyond that is testament enough to his greatness, and I dare not risk disrespecting the man with any of my standard snarky non sequiturs. I'll just say that the story of how Nelson Mandela became the Nelson Mandela whose legacy lives on in South Africa and in our collective consciousness is quite a story, and we'll go from there.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the big screen adaptation of the late South African President's 1995 autobiography of the same name, is the latest from director Michael Chadwick. Chadwick and screenwriter William Nicholson had a very daunting task before them. Could they really condense some 77 years of Mandela's life into a movie with a theater-friendly running time and still do the man justice? I'm happy to report that they could, and they did it beautifully. Long Walk is just shy of 2 1/2 hours long, but it runs through that time at a breakneck pace, with few if any important details omitted. We see Mandela (Idris Elba) grow from his boyhood in a Xhosa village to his young adulthood as a defense attorney in Johannesburg, to marrying his first wife, Evelyn (Terry Pheto), to losing her due to his tomcatting, to marrying his second wife, Winnie (Naomie Harris), all within the film's first half hour. Then things get really interesting. The movie never feels rushed, nor does it become difficult to follow; Chadwick and Nicholson found the perfect balance between pacing and plot for their film, and it really must be seen to be believed.

Critics have been quick to point out the lack of physical similarity between Idris Elba and Nelson Mandela as one of the film's few shortcomings. They do have a point. Here is my counterpoint: Idris Elba is what is known in show business as an actor; that is, someone who makes their living by regularly pretending to be someone other than who they actually are in order that they might entertain us. Granted, taking a man who's built like "Mean Joe" Greene and putting him in a 1960s-era business suit results in someone who looks less like the future President of South Africa and a lot like Sidney Poitier's Detective Virgil Tibbs, but Elba's performance is absolutely uncanny. Once he starts speaking, you are completely convinced you're watching the real Mandela back in his prime. The dissimilarities all but fade away to nothing as the film progresses and the younger Mandela ages into the wise and aged Mandela we remember and revere today.

Aside from the autobiography on which it's based, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is as thorough and honest a retelling of Mandela's long, inspiring life as anyone could ask for, especially within the time constraints of the motion picture medium. I'm genuinely shocked that U2's contribution to the soundtrack was the only part of this wonderful film that the Academy felt was worthy of a nomination.

Don't make the same mistake they did.

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, 1:45 and 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 11, The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $4.50-$9, 253.593.4474

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