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Endgame (2009)
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by Slyder

"Watching Apartheid fall…"
5 stars

There’s been a good share of films that have dealt with the South African racial struggles against Apartheid, but nary a few that actually covered what exactly had happened during the final years of the conflict, where South Africa was on the verge of a bloody civil war and the white minorities were barely holding their grip on power and holding it at all costs. British director Peter Travis, working from a screenplay by Paula Milne (adapted from the book “The Fall of Apartheid” by Robert Harvey), presents us a riveting and insightful look at the in works of how the first highly dangerous steps were taken in order to finally end the regime that had oppressed the south Africa people for nearly 50 years.

The mid-80s were a big time of turmoil as unrest and violence ravaged South Africa. Civil war between the white minorities, the ruling National Party’s legal system of Apartheid and the black majorities is closer to become a reality. This wave of violence not only is threatening the stability of the country but it is also threatening the interests of a number of companies who have invested a good number of capital in the country. One of these companies is Consolidated Gold, a British mining concern. Their CEO, Rudolf Agnew (Derek Jacobi) secretly sends the company’s Head of Public Affairs Michael Young (Jonny Lee Miller), to research the problem and then coordinate, with great personal risk of life and with great secrecy, a possible table of dialogue between the rebel factions and representatives from the white minorities. He manages to enlist one of the leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), a man named Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who has been derided as a terrorist by the ruling National Party and is in exile. Young enlists on behalf of the government side a University Professor of Philosophy named William Esterhuyse, who, unbeknownst to Young, becomes forcibly an infiltration agent for the National Intelligence Service under the command of Dr. Niel Barnard. Despite the secrecy, the government under PW Botha (Timothy West) is determined to stay ahead on whatever attempt there is against the system, be it a conspiracy or a table of negotiations. They have already incarcerated renowned activist Nelson Mandela (Clarke Peters) for almost 30 years and are willing to use his freedom as a bargaining chip to draw any potential conspirators out.

Just like several films before it, director Peter Travis goes for a cinema vérité approach in order to capture the realism of the state of South Africa back in those turbulent times. I have to admit though that at times he and cinematographer David Odd are at times a bit excessive with their hand-held shots. It certainly gives you the rushed and urgent “you are there” look and feel but at times the time was shaking too much to actually be able to see what the hell was happening. One thing I thought was quite interesting was seeing the camera take at times a point of view shot in certain scenes which made the suspense grow tighter as it gave us the impression that someone or somebody was actually watching from a distance whatever suspicious thing the person in their focus did.

The main point of interest in the film is definitely the relationship between Thabo Mbeki and Dr. Willie Esterhuyse. These two educated men come from different backgrounds and from different races, one uses violence as a necessary fighting tool while the other uses education and rationale. Both men share the dissent against Apartheid, but both differ in regards of approaching the problem, and it’s this exchange of ideas, their workout of their differences, and the imminent dangers that follow them and haunt them day in and day. And both are pressured by outsider sources that willingly or unwillingly want them to shift the power play towards their side of the playing field. Both of these characters are the ones who drive this film along. Another interesting detail to which Travis manages to play perfectly is that in this movie, evil isn’t necessarily set into one character or characters. It is present, in several characters, including in the people that are fighting the good cause in the ANC, but it never sets into one person enough for you to say: “that’s the bad guy.” On similar thrillers, evil is represented in a character or characters, but on this movie, it’s actually represented in the actions, be it Intelligence agents following somebody or suggesting that there maybe a bomb to your car or ANC nationals who plant bombs in “military” targets. By doing this, Travis manages to portray every single character, even the dreaded PW Botha as a human being, a human being with flaws as every one else is.

The acting was excellent; William Hurt once again proves that he’s one of the best actors working today, as he’s dead-on as Dr. William Esterhuyse, as he manages with his facial expressions to connect with the audience what he’s feeling and what he’s going through. Chiwetel Ejiofor once again strikes gold and his portrayal of Thabo Mbeki is also flawless and being from African descent certainly helps his credibility. Jonny Lee Miller is also very good as the fearless Michael Young. A special shout-out to Clarke Peters who manages to give a very accurate impersonation of Nelson Mandela, the man who would later would become South Africa’s first ever democratically elect president.

This movie deserves to be seen, not only because of its excellent depiction of one of the most important events in South African history as well as world history in general, but because it’s also a very honest and introspective film about a time when madness, racism and violence ran rampant throughout the country, and also a very suspenseful and thrilling one as well. Many of you have read about the history of these events, but as one fellow critic once said, the devil is in the details and boy was it a heart-stopping one from time to time. In closing, the movie also makes a very quiet but evident statement of fact at the irony that it took a company whose interests where threatened by a system on the verge of collapse, to actually go and commence something resembling a course of action to put an end to that system. How sad that the people that are in the street, the true victims, only cared about burning cars and smashing windows rather than take the initiative. But hey so long as it is been done, right? 4.5-5

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originally posted: 01/29/09 15:47:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2009 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 09-Feb-2010


  DVD: 09-Feb-2010

Directed by
  Pete Travis

Written by
  Paula Milne

  William Hurt
  Chiwetel Ejiofor
  Jonny Lee Miller
  Mark Strong
  Derek Jacobi
  Clarke Peters

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