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Movie Review: Mandela's Gun

Nelson Mandela has become immortalised as an international icon for peace and transformation. Many know the story of the wise man and freedom fighter, who led a country through a turbulent time in South Africa's history as newly elected President, after being incarcerated as a political prisoner on Robben Island for almost three decades. This true story is comparable with The Count of Monte Cristo and has been popularised in world media, but what about Mandela's life before he was arrested? Mandela's Gun uncovers much of the mystery of a young Nelson Mandela in the time he spent co-founding Umkhonto we Sizwe in the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre.

His mission was to build an army and led his compatriots to Algeria and Ethiopia to receive military training, during which time he received a Makarov pistol from Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, signalling the ANC's shift toward armed resistance. During this time as South Africa's most wanted man, he was known as the "Black Pimpernel", travelling across Africa through Botswana and Tanzania under aliases and using fake passports, evading capture and even assassination attempts.

Mandela's Gun is a blend of documentary and espionage drama thriller. It's directed by John Irvin, who is best known for classic war films and the iconic British TV series, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. He's brought a finesse to the dramatisation that gives the black-and-white film an epic and important feel. The clinical "Cold War" element to the espionage seems a bit misplaced in the African context, but like the films of Anton Corbijn, the stylish visuals are composed and polished to the point that you wish they'd applied them to a full-length feature film.

Mandela's Gun

"Don't force me to use it."

Tumisho Masha plays a young Mandela, the first South African actor to do so, and at certain angles, the two seem indistinguishable. There's some wiggle-room in this performance since Mandela was much younger, more reactionary and there's much less interview footage to contrast against Masha and Irvin's interpretation. At first, it seems as though the film-makers are trying to protect his determined performance by cutting away for speaking parts and narration. Mandela's unique accent and rhythm is mimicked by Masha, who does a good job, but it does seem like some of his performance is lost in trying to capture the nuances of his speech patterns.

Mandela's Gun is a strange mix, delivering breathtaking and artistic dramatic footage with talking heads jutting into frame to give context and fill in the gaps. It's as if this project was salvaged after it was initially intended to be an art house espionage thriller. You find yourself being immersed into the period and character's plight and underground resistance, only to be ripped out of the dream by a new interviewee's commentary. This concept keeps you constantly distracted, possibly to the film's benefit as the infotainment keeps us off-balance, yet entertained.

This film has been beautifully shot and features an award-winning South African cast, including Zethu Dlomo as Winnie Mandela, Nick Boraine as Cecil Williams and Desmond Dube as Govan Mbeki. While the story is captivating, based on Mandela's legacy and draws some little-known subplots to life, you get the impression that it would struggle as a standalone drama thriller, especially since everyone knows the outcome. The dramatisation is quaint in execution, but seems a bit tame given the political turmoil and lacks the necessary moral and situational tension. While respectable and solemn, Masha's performance is a bit distant, a factor which is further alienated by the documentary hybrid treatment.

The film-makers have gathered some impressive commentators and witnesses from the age, including: Tokyo Sexwale, Ronnie Kasrils, Denis Goldberg and Mac Maharaj amongst others. While they add some testimonial fuel to the fire, it's two interviews – with Mandela's would-be assassin in Ethiopia and with former FBI agent Don Rickard that really take the film up a notch, opening up discussion around some details that have been lost in history. The docudrama mash-up is a bit experimental and uneven in terms of establishing a flow, even though Irvin has spliced the interviews against the backdrop of the film to aid continuity.

Perhaps a better set up would have been to start at Lilliesleaf farm with the current day search for the missing Makarov pistol. Opening with this air of mystery and exploring the symbol's political heritage could have been a better springboard for suspense and given the documentary more direction and relevance to today's audiences. Without this filter, we're simply hitting checkpoints and sifting through a great man's early history, which while curious, is dwarfed by his extraordinary legacy in later life.

The bottom line: Experimental

Talking Movies with Spling - The Accountant, Don't Breathe and Hello, My Name is Doris

Spling reviews The Accountant, Don't Breathe and Hello, My Name is Doris as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

Talking Movies with Spling - Hands of Stone, Cafe Society and A Hologram for the King

Spling reviews Hands of Stone, Cafe Society and A Hologram for the King as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

Movie Review: The Accountant

As a movie title, The Accountant conjures up images of office paper, photocopiers, spreadsheets and responsible haircuts. Luckily the movie poster went for something less sensible: Ben Affleck kitted out like he was going to audit an "entrepreneur" in the slums of Rio. The stark contrast creates a series of nagging questions and presents much more promise than a Wednesday in the life of Ben Affleck as a self-employed accountant. The Accountant echoes the equally irritating movie title, The Informant!, which starred his old buddy, Matt Damon. Thankfully it's not some leftfield sequel, but rather a film that seems to be aiming for a blend of The Professional and A Beautiful Mind.

We track the story of Christian Wolff, a mathematics genius and highly skilled marksman, who gets caught up in the affairs of a robotics company after auditing their books. The concept has weight and The Accountant has style, but the story is convoluted, the storytelling is muddled and the execution is off-balance. The action thriller is trying to do too much and feels scattershot, diminishing the power of some otherwise great moments. It's the sort of movie that could become a treasure trove for spoof film-makers with scenes that border on the ridiculous and a story that keeps getting more and more ludicrous.

Affleck plays a man with autism and while convincing as an elite soldier, the odd smirk throws us. It's a committed performance, probably in the build up to or shortly after playing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, based on his physique. Despite the odd bemused look, it's a captivating oddball performance that helps string the film together.

The Accountant movie

"I don't fanny about."

It's as if director Gavin O'Connor is trying to adapt a 'string theory' board. The action thriller moves excitedly from one crazy pin to another, struggling to find its balance but eager to please with its daredevil exploits. We're given snippets from Wolff's childhood, recalling his tough upbringing, throwing in evidence of a mysterious and bloody massacre as we try to piece his story together, much like the FBI investigation in the backdrop. The filmmakers have married Wolff's two worlds together like movies colliding, throw in a third film from the FBI's point-of-view and even position The Accountant as an autism awareness film.

This choppy and swirling mix of amusing drama, thrilling suspense, autism infotainment and pensive detective work keeps you mildly entertained as you try to connect the dots. While it brims with confidence, this film just doesn't have the skeleton to hold it all together. It's great to see Anna Kendrick, John Lithgow and J.K. Simmons throwing their abilities into the mix, but despite the quality of the cast, it never reaches cruising speed. Kendrick recalls her role in the equally imbalanced Mr. Right, we try to forget 3rd Rock from the Sun while Simmons makes you want to see him play a film noir detective. The ultraviolent action and rising body count heightens the suspense and will appease action junkies, but the dramatic element of The Accountant is incredulous and hesitant.

The Accountant has some terrific moments and keeps you watching through its twists-and-turns, but this is a bendy, bloody and rocky road that gets by with a bit of flair and the best of intentions. If you switch off completely, you'll have a good time watching Affleck do his thing, otherwise this film may make you want to stick to watching films Affleck directs.

The bottom line: Riddled

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