The Great Man theory of history has long been a controversial one: is history shaped by exceptional men who enact change through sheer force of will, or is it the result of larger forces, like class, economics and technological progress?

Cinema is an art form that glorifies the heroic individual over the collective — except, maybe, Robert Altman films — and "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom" is no exception. Yet even though the Great Man is a trope in films, it's hard to imagine South Africa today without the figure of Nelson Mandela. He was the one man who could envision a clear path away from the racial segregation of apartheid to reconciliation between black and white. Without him, change would no doubt have been bloodier.

Justin Chadwick's film is regrettably dry, released in the wake of Mandela's death last year, at age 95. It's more monument than movie but it does sketch out the basic facts of his life: how the young and idealistic lawyer was radicalized by the brutality of the white police and the bias of their courts; how he joined the African National Congress (ANC); how their campaign of peaceful resistance eventually turned to violence and bombings; and how he spent 27 years of his life in prison, only being released in 1990 when the de Klerk government was desperate to find a leader they could bargain with as chaos grew in the streets and economic sanctions hit hard.