Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making Of Featurette.
THE life of the prison warder in charge of Nelson Mandela on Robben Island forms the basis for this intriguing human drama from director Bille August.
Goodbye Bafana entertains in spite of its generous running time but the film suffers slightly from not spending more time in the company of one of history’s most remarkable figures.
Joseph Fiennes plays ambitious warder James Gregory who lands a job on Robben Island supervising Nelson Mandela (Dennis Haysbert) following his conviction as a terrorist in 1968.
At first governed by the rules of the prison community, Gregory slowly begins to develop a begrudging respect for Mandela and the two become friends.
But their relationship threatens Gregory’s career and places a strain on his personal life and relationship with his wife (Diane Kruger) until attitudes begin to change in South Africa and the friendship is slowly embraced by the authorities.
Hence, Gregory and Mandela interact with each other over the course of 21 years, during which they move from the high security Robben Island to increasingly less stringent institutions such as Pollsmoor and Victor Vester prisons.
The most remarkable thing about Goodbye Bafana is the way it exposes the shocking racism that existed in South Africa throughout the period of Mandela’s imprisonment.
Gregory and his family were treated as virtual outcasts at times for daring to sympathise with Mandela and August punctuates proceedings with several bursts of violence to emphasise the volatile state of the country.
But the emphasis is mostly on Gregory and his wife and both Fiennes and Diane Kruger convince as people caught in the middle of extraordinary events, tussling with their emotions and the slow realisation that the Apartheid issue isn’t quite as black and white as it seems.
Haysbert lends Mandela the same sort of intelligence and dignity that he displayed as the US president in five seasons of 24 but sadly lacks the screen time needed to really make his mark.
The film is at its strongest during the exchanges between Gregory and Mandela but there are too few of them and they ultimately deprive proceedings of the weighty emotional clout audiences should have been expecting.
That said, Goodbye Bafana still offers a moving portrait of a difficult friendship that helped to change the course of history of a nation.
Running time: 117mins