Endgame

2010-06-10 11:28
 
Endgame

What it's about:

The true-life story of how the secret negotiations in England between an exiled ANC delegation and a small group of Afrikaner intellectuals led to the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid.

What we thought:

As cloak and dagger political thrillers go, Endgame is two hours of good old-fashioned made for TV movie magic. Relax. While this British-made "Masterpiece Contemporary" production may have shipped straight to the small screen in America, it’s well worth watching in the cinema.

For starters, it boasts something of a rarity in big screen flicks these days – a bona fide plot. Fans of old school political thrillers like The Manchurian Candidate (1962), All the President’s Men (1976), JFK (1991), Lumumba (2000) or even The Last King of Scotland (2006) are going to love its combination of political intrigue, personal paranoia, corporate conspiracy and historical documentary-drama.

Endgame transports the viewer back to the turbulent mid-to-late 1980s in South Africa during PW Botha’s infamous 'state of emergency'. This was a time when the ANC, PAC and Communist Party were all banned, Madiba was imprisoned and the conservative white Nationalist government hell bent on brutally crushing dissent while increasingly frustrated black activists exploded bombs in bars and shopping malls. South Africa seemed destined for a civil war.

Phew, sounds like just the kind of bloody history Ridley Scott could turn into an epic Hollywood action blockbuster, eh? Maybe, but that’s another movie. Endgame uses such events only as an historical mise-en-scène, focusing instead on the secret talks in London between a small group of white Afrikaner intellectuals and exiled ANC representatives between 1985 and 1990.

What, you weren’t aware that the 'Groot Krokodil', PW actually authorised a secret delegation spearheaded by Stellenbosch philosophy professor Willie Esterhuyse (William Hurt) to talk to the 'swart gevaar'? Or that a young political player by the name of Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was at the helm of these negotiations for the ANC? Or that both parties were actually brought together by mysterious go-between, Michael Young (Jonny Lee Miller) who represented the far more insidious profit motives of British mining company Consolidated Goldfields!

Okay, so the film may conflate some of the historical facts. But by focusing on actual character development – rather than action movie mania – the portrait of two men from different cultural-political orbits putting aside their own personal prejudices to save a nation from a potential catastrophe becomes an allegorical Ubuntu consciousness quest.

Cynics might well see this as a dangerous distillation of apartheid’s complexities, but the film actually sidesteps any 'bro' movie kitsch to elucidate each character’s personal conflicts and fears. William Hurt nails many of the moral difficulties facing Esteryhuse with cautious, convincing ambiguity. Sequences where the Secret Police trail the professor are particularly sinister for any viewer who can remember those shady looking individuals parked outside nightclubs in a Ford Cortina back in the late 80s. All good, but even Hurt’s compelling performance – and a pleasantly onomatopoeic Afrikaans English accent – cannot elide over some of the film's more problematic flaws. 

While screenwriter Paula Milne eloquently sketches many of the moral ambiguities of the white characters, her portrayal of black characters is unfortunately one-dimensional. Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things, American Gangster) does his best to evoke the paranoia and indeed, ideological weight the young activist Mbeki must have felt on his shoulders, but his character just isn’t given as much airtime as Hurt. And it is also a real pity that even this relatively low budget cable movie felt the need to hire familiar Hollywood faces to play all the principal roles. While Clarke Peters (Det. Lester Freamon on The Wire) delivers a statesmanlike depiction of Nelson Mandela, surely the venerable John Kani could’ve mined more of Madiba’s magic instead of being relegated to a bit part playing Oliver Tambo?


The secret negotiations that sought Nelson Mandela's freedom and the end of apartheid in South Africa is thrillingly dramatised.

Preshen govender 2010/06/10 4:41 PM
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A proudly South African movie played by Americans
crees 2010/06/11 9:15 AM
i was an extra in this movie. that's at least one south african.
Anna 2010/06/11 11:10 AM
Madiba would be hurt to hear that you consider Oliver Tambo's role to be a "bit part".
Joe @ Anna 2010/06/11 6:58 PM
In the movie. A bit part in the movie, not real life. To everyone with opinions about who should act in South African stories: you go try make the next movie. Nothing stops you. Let us know how far you get.
Collitjies 2010/06/13 3:47 PM
Will this film be the whole truth or a cover up as to what really happened.
Collitjies 2010/06/13 3:47 PM
Will this film be the whole truth or a cover up as to what really happened.
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