The year is 1985. The place: a fervently eroding South America plagued by the mistrust of race due to apartheid. Nelson Mandela is imprisoned. The end of this political game is approaching, but how will it go down? Secret meetings are held by opposing sides of this warring country. Sounds like a great movie plot, huh? The most intriguing part of the story is rooted it’s reality which took place long before such a film could be made. More after the jump:
Endgame (Peter Travis, 2009) chronicles the underground meetings of the ANC and Afrikanas hoping to speed up the termination of apartheid. Michael Young (Johnny Lee Miller, Eli Stone) works for a British mining company which funds these gatherings. Michael talks a leery Professor William Esterhuyse (William Hurt, The Big Chill) into joining this organization and going head to head with ANC leader, Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor, American Gangster). Across a small table, differences the size of the nation are discussed and feuded over. At the same time, an imprisoned Nelson Mandela (Clarke Peters, The Wire) is approached by Neil Young (Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes) who is working under P.W. Botha (Timothy West, Ever After). Mandela is slowly offered what the political office refers to as “bait” masked in kind treatment, days of freedom, and relocation from a closet-sized cell to a cozy house of lockdown. The treatment of Mandela is the angle authorities take to whip up a wayward PR scam in desperate attempts of maintaining apartheid. The confidential and dangerous journey each man paves for himself leads to a transformation that will change a nation’s history forever.
It’s unfortunate that this film is released in the same year as Clint Eastwood’s Invictus. Though the two narratives portray different stories, they will ultimately be linked due to their focus on racial integration in South Africa and the significance of Nelson Mandela. Eastwood’s film, stylized as Classical Hollywood Cinema, focuses on the efforts of Mandela to unite a broken nation through the game of rugby. The film zooms into the lives of Mandela and his closest colleagues as well as one rugby player who leads the South African team to the World Cup. Relationships are established, tensions are built, conflict ensues, beautiful music plays, and at the end we are moved by the success of the few characters we have gotten to know. Happy ending aside, Eastwood’s film is effective in that it is easy to follow and plays by the rules which the box office defines as “popularity” in American film. Endgame, on the other hand, is more complex. Though the audience gets to know a select number of characters, we are continually exposed to the bigger picture, which is the entire country of South Africa. The dialogue is quick and bursting with history. Many of the scenes spew out a plethora of information that may feel too extensive to be absorbed one viewing. Though a mainstream audience may go to theaters or search Netflix for a movie of Eastwood’s approach, Endgame is well worth the few hours of fascinating history.
The film is advertised as a political thriller and involves enough suspense to be classified accordingly. The opening scene establishes this tone as our leading character is snuck across an unwelcoming border, barely hidden in the backseat of a car. Tensions continually unfold as the men of the narrative put themselves in personal danger, having to check for car bombs and consistently remaining skeptical of any vehicle that seems to be trailing them. However, these moments do not take up a great part of the 109 minute film, which feels more like a documentary without the broken down explanations. Don’t expect an abundance of action as much of the film takes place around a table while men discuss the future of South America. There is some cinematic brilliance in the drawn out stillness being spliced with bombings, car chases, and displays of public violence between authority and civilians. The active scenes, filmed with shaky handheld cameras and edited with quick jumps, are reminiscent of the nightly news. Though concise, these moments provide a glimpse into the terror and aggression plaguing the country, while the rest of the film emphasizes the tedious waiting period and cautious measures taken by those fighting for change. The end of the narrative does not mark the end of the reflective power in this piece. After the final scene, facts about the ANC printed onscreen bring our attention not only to the organization’s importance during this specific event, but the influence the ANC has had on other political parties around the world since. The topical component is the cherry on top of this multi-layered picture. It’s no wonder it was an official selection of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. I enthusiastically recommend Endgame for its well crafted look into a piece of history and the captivating performances of Hurt and Ejiofor. Watch it once to be entertained, and go back for multiple screenings to take in the depth of what this piece has to say.
The DVD release offers the picture in widescreen (2.35) with 5.1 surround sound. The film is rated PG-13, though the bonus footage in unrated. The additional features consist of a series of interviews with William Hurt, Johnny Lee Miller, Peter Travis (director), David Aukin (producer), and Paula Milne (writer). The extra material is worth checking out for personal looks at what contributed to the authenticity of the film.