Thursday marked Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday, and as the South African leader remains in a Pretoria hospital, the Weinstein Co. wants to remind us of the legacy of the Nobel Prize winner, and that it has an upcoming movie on the revolutionary.
Harvey Weinstein has a way of playing into the news, but even he couldn’t have anticipated the bizarre confluence: As the ailing Mandela has been the subject of a worldwide tribute these last few months, Weinstein was already preparing to release a movie that aims to be the leader's greatest cinematic legacy.
Directed by Justin Chadwick and produced by longtime Mandela confidante Anant Singh, the film aims to trace Mandela as his politics evolved from non-violent resistance to something more confrontational. “The leader you know, the man you didn’t,” an inter-title states.
There’s a mix of feel-good hope and darker tones of struggle in the trailer, along with some of the more inevitable platitudes (Winnie: “The more we oppress us the harder we fight”). There is also a poignant line near the end of the spot: “Freedom is an ideal for which I am prepared to die,” Mandela says. Elba, making his first impression as a man we all recognize, is convincing channeling Mandela's stoic sense of purpose. (Mandela apparently thinks so too.)
Authorized adaptations can be a little toothless — this film is based on Mandela’s own memoir and has his blessing — and at points there’s a kind of familiar inspirational quality to the trailer, though it does show some bite when Mandela makes his ideological shift. (Weinstein has been vocal about distancing the movie from that perception, telling reporters at Cannes that the film is "not your daddy's HBO version of Mandela.... It's warts-and-all.") Chadwick has earned the benefit of the doubt after his well-wrought previous movie “The First Grader.”
"Mandela" hits Nov. 29, after the arrival of a long-delayed, lower-budget biopic of Winnie Mandela starring Jennifer Hudson.
[For the Record, 11:30 a.m. PDT July 19: An earlier version of this post said Nelson Mandela's birthday was Friday; it was Thursday.]
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