On the left, there was disappointment as the review in Britain's Counterfire expressed: "This absence of ideological perspective is probably to be expected but the concluding effect of the film is to produce a sanitized and depoliticized Mandela that does not help us comprehend his massive impact. The apolitical Mandela in the film is the one neoliberal warmongers like Blair, Bush and Obama are happy to eulogize."
I am sure if the filmmakers had tried to please ideologues on all sides, the movie probably wouldn't have even been made, much less released, with the small fortune in production and marketing monies required to be considered competitive.
That said, it did make news with lots of star-studded attention grabbing premieres and some media write-ups, especially, after Mandela died while a Royal screening was underway in England.
The movie itself got less attention that its stars and connection with a well-known leader.
Some say that's because of the movie format, as in this review by Wamuwi Mbao in South Africa, "The biopic genre further restricts the possible creative directions the narrative can take, and the result is a movie that tries to do a lot but ultimately does not succeed in rising above the textbook facts to give us the story of this larger-than-life man. At every point, the discerning audience member feels dissatisfied, goaded by annoying inaccuracies, and manhandled by soaring strings doing their frenetic best to convince us that this is the story as it should be told. It isn't."
Most of the South African reviews were positive as the film set box office records but this reviewer found the film not South African enough, apparently unhappy that it was made for a global audience.
Other critics were even less enamored, putting it down as too conventional.
Writes reviewer John Beifuss, "a no-show in best-of-2013 year-end critics' polls, "Mandela" is not vivid, daring or passionate enough to exploit, for better or worse, the unexpected current-events context of its arrival. It is not an adequate tribute to South Africa's first black president nor is it a disgrace to his memory. It is a rather conventional and pious movie biography that misses the opportunity to be more -- to use art and imagination to bring insight to a life history that otherwise might be better served with a straight documentary."
That was a comment that raised my eyebrows because I made six documentaries about Mandela, and had been documenting the making and meaning of the movie. Dramas and documentaries can rarely be fused and docs face major distribution challenges. Terms like "might be better served" are vague and often pretentious.
What these critics rarely do is to get specific and say what they wanted to see, or how they felt the story could have been handled differently. Perhaps that's not their job but vague prescriptions are often a cop-out. There is often no substance in their calls for more substance.
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