Wednesday, 5 February 2014
All publicity is good publicity as they say, and while the producers of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom would take no joy in the death of their film's subject -- anti-apartheid campaigner and first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela -- late in 2013, they could be forgiven for delighting in the unintentional yet inevitable focus his passing would bring the film.
Conversely, Mandela's death also brings a greater level of scrutiny to the film, directed by Justin Chadwick and adapted by William Nicholson from Mandela's own autobiography, The Long Walk To Freedom. And the first hurdle, particularly for those who are sticklers for authenticity, is that leading man Idris Elba bears no resemblance to the man he's portraying.
A fine British actor with a commanding physical presence, Elba all but masters the distinct tone and cadence of Mandela's speech but it's his appearance that is at odds with the iconic face -- both young and old -- which we have become accustomed to over the years (even more so in the days following his death).
How you engage with the film may very well depend on your ability to set aside this discrepancy, as Long Walk To Freedom follows Mandela from his early days as a lawyer in 1942, through his 27-year incarceration on Robben Island, his triumphant release in 1990 and his historic election as not only South Africa's first black president but that country's first president elected under fully (one person, one vote) democratic elections.
More successful is Naomie Harris as Mandela's second wife, Winnie; less encumbered by the legacy of her character's real life status as 'the woman behind the man'. Last seen as Moneypenny in 2012's Skyfall, Harris brings a fiery intensity to her portrayal of Winnie who, with her husband incarcerated, is forced to raise their two daughters on her own whilst always under the surveillance and harassment of the police; even spending more than a year in solitary confinement.
The anti-apartheid cause radicalises Winnie to such an extent that it is their differing opinions of how South Africa should move forward which sours Mandela and Winnie's marriage and not the havoc the tyranny of time and distance that 27 years behinds bars would be expected to wreak. Yet the film doesn't demonise Winnie, which may have been tempting given her less than savoury actions both during and following her husband's prison time.
And to the film's credit, it doesn't deify Mandela. He's depicted as a womaniser and a lousy husband to his first wife, and a man prepared to resort to extreme measures in pursuit of a just cause. And in the days and weeks prior to his eventual release from prison, Mandela engages in private negotiations with the government in spite of what had been until then a one-in-all-in with his fellow ANC members and Robben Island inmates.
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom is a handsomely mounted but rather pedestrian look at one man's life and struggle, which was so much bigger than one man and perhaps too big to be contained within one film. Well-intentioned, the film lacks the passion of its hero.
Tuesday, 4 February 2014
In a similar vein to Knocked Up (2007) and (500) Days of Summer (2009) but not even close to being in the same league, Are We Officially Dating? is a rom-com from the male perspective. Actually, writer-director Tom Gormican's feature debut could easily be dubbed a 'bro-mantic comedy' given that most of the love on display in this intermittently amusing pap is circulated between the three male leads.
Chief among them is Jason (Zac Efron), a serial womaniser with a roster of female fuck buddies and a strong aversion to commitment. It's a lifestyle his friend and co-worker Daniel (Miles Teller) emulates with varying degrees of success; the charming if not-so obviously sexy Daniel assisted in his seduction attempts by Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), who it seems is one of the boys.
Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) is the only member of the trio who has experience with an actual relationship. But given that his wife wants to divorce him for her lawyer who looks an awful lot like Morris Chestnut (a running joke which becomes less funny as the film progresses, and probably the further away from Hollywood the audience is), it's apparent he's no more clued in about what women want than his feckless buddies.
Mikey's also the most resistant when the three make a pact to indulge in their singledom and avoid the dating game. That pact is quietly jeopardized by Mikey's clandestine trysts with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Daniel's similarly on-the-down low hook-ups with Chelsea, and the not-so secretly developing relationship between Jason and Ellie (Imogen Poots).
After a one night stand, the two begin spending a lot of time together -- initially at Jason's insistence; making amends for suspecting Ellie of being a call girl -- but when his buddies begin to call him on it, and Ellie suddenly requires him to step up, he feels compelled to adhere to his personal code rather than his heart.
Whether speaking from experience or exaggerating for laughs, Gormican's screenplay mines the fallibilities of the bro-code, where pleasure should be foremost and love is a dirty word. And there are plenty of dirty words in Are We Officially Dating?; dick jokes abound as do instances of guys just being dicks. The film's characters may be a little (or a lot) sexist but the film isn't.
Unfortunately, it's not consistently funny nor does it examine some of the ideas that it hits upon. What it does have going for it is the easy chemistry between its leads. Efron (also an exec producer here) but particularly Jordan (Fruitvale Station) and Teller (The Spectacular Now) make for enjoyable company. They're very much on the up, and Are We Officially Dating? is merely a not-so memorable date on that upward trajectory.