Written by: John Briley
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard
Figures known by one name have left a discernible impact in the world. Oprah, LeBron, Madonna, and even on the other end of the spectrum like Hitler. All world-famous single names and the one followed in this feature is one of the most well-known men in world history, Gandhi. Conventional in its execution and eye-rolling casting aside, the film’s epic length captures a life full of sacrifice and a duty for the place of his people.
Spending his young adult life in South Africa, a young Mahatma Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) discovers laws discriminating against Indians. This jumpstarts a life of civil disobedience, which takes him back to India where he faces off with the mighty British Empire, which has maintained its grip over India for too long.
Sitting at a whopping 191 minutes, Gandhi certainly has the scale of an epic in runtime, which felt needed for a man of this significance in the history of the world. With all the time in the world Richard Attenborough tries to bring to the screen a life many have learned about, but at times gets muddled in the message. Starting out from his young adult work showed a man willing to fight for his people from the onset of his professional life. It certainly sets up the man we will see for the remaining three hours of the feature.
With film stretching the three-hour mark, there needs to be a frank discussion on whether it needed to be so long to tell a coherent story. And while Gandhi has plenty to cover in this man’s life, watching the feature felt like quite the marathon to take on. The pacing left plenty lacking in a story of such a powerful figure in world history that I could not help but constantly look at the clock to see how much is left to only be greeted by 2.5 hours and then 2 hours. It was a rough viewing experience, which lies in the fault of the economy of storytelling implemented by the filmmakers here. There are three-hour movies that zip right on by and then movies like Gandhi where it feels like you’ve been there for days, which does not land on the positive side of the feature’s sake.
Within small pockets, the film demonstrates the intrigue of India’s path to freedom. The fight to kick out the British was only the beginning even if it felt like an insurmountable task for so long. The real complications arose from what to do with the land divisions and how they aligned with the two major religions in the nation. Seeing as this still remains an issue between Hindus and Muslims in India and Pakistan, the original struggle highlights plenty of division even the great Gandhi needed to intervene for peace. When it gets to the point where Gandhi does a hunger strike due to the violence happening within his people, you know things are serious.
I cannot adequately review this feature without acknowledging Ben Kingsley’s appearance in the feature. I understand Kingsley’s heritage being from India but having to put that amount of darkening makeup on someone to play the role, perhaps they could have gone with someone who more naturally fits the role. Yes, Kingsley is great in the role of Gandhi and absolutely does the man justice but it became difficult to sit through the feature with the actor baked in all of that brownface makeup. It just seems a bit unnecessary when there are many Indians out there who could act in this role and not have to be caked in what Kingsley wore in order to accurately portray the individual. Just my two cents on the matter.
Admirable in its efforts and does well to encapsulate the life of one of the most famous men to ever walk the Earth, Gandhi gets the job done. It shows the many trials and tribulations this man needed to endure for a country kept in captivity for so long only for the infighting to eventually take his life. Perhaps more economical storytelling could have allowed me to enjoy the feature a bit more but I have to be honest that I was happier when the feature was finished than at any point during the viewing experience. That cannot possibly be a good indication of how this feature plowed along as a story.