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updated: 12/26/2013 12:41 PM

Mandela's 'Long Walk' a long, plodding drama

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  • Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) waits in a South African jail for 27 years in the face-based drama "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom."

      Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) waits in a South African jail for 27 years in the face-based drama "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom."

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"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" is a long, long, long movie so dramatically inert that it makes this year's previous Mandela movie, the serviceable but unremarkable "Winnie," look positively classic by comparison.

Justin Chadwick's "Mandela" presents the story of beloved South African leader Nelson Mandela with so much reverent respect, its good intentions nearly choke us.

Idris Elba injects gravitas and power into his performance as Mandela. Towering over everyone else in the cast at 6-feet-3-inches, Elba captures the real Mandela's tall (6-foot) stature.

But Elba bears little actual resemblance to Mandela. Yet, the movie uses the real Mandela in newsreel footage, photos and on posters. Why constantly thwart the audience's ability to suspend its disbelief?

"Mandela" pulls us through the leader's now familiar life story (27 years in prison; elected the first black South African president; split with his activist wife, played by a sparky Naomie Harris) with a plodding pace.

A few individual moments resonate, such as Mandela seeing his grown daughter. Still, the movie constantly reminds us of the title character's greatness, captured in grandiose, artistic compositions that strangely enough, almost rob him of his humanness.

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