Endgame (2009) dir. Pete Travis
Starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Chiwetel Ejiofor, William Hurt
By Alan Bacchus
The four-year political fight to free Nelson Mandela and end Apartheid got the trendy intelli-political cinematic treatment in Pete Travis’s “Endgame” which premiered at Sundance and went straight cable last year. The “Syriana” style template is applied to this pivotal moment in world history resulting in a surprising unoriginal lesser version of a Stephan Gaghan film.
It’s the late 80’s in South Africa, Apartheid is in full effect and a time when the African National Congress (ANC) is considered a terrorist organization by the government. Riots and violent demonstrations occur in protest of the racist regime. Jonny Lee Miller, a representative of South African business interests, attempts to assemble a meeting with the Afrikaner elite and the ANC leader Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in hopes negotiating a peaceful unofficial ceasefire. Secret deals, backstabbing and covert negotiating of everyone’s personal self-interests trump the needs of the nation.
There’s something manipulative about the consciously 'realist' style applied to this story. Before the abominable “Vantage Point” Pete Travis made a name for himself directing his “Bloody Sunday” companion piece “Omagh” – a documentary-like recreation of the infamous Irish tragedy. Recycling this method for the story of the liberation of South Africa feels like obvious style over substance.
The Stephen Gaghan Traffic/Syriana style casts such a large shadow over the film we get lost in the actual plotting. For 90mins we get a repetitive series of quiet phone conversations, wiretapping and quiet political whispering. Like “Syriana” which purposely held information in order to confuse the audience to actual motivations, actions and reactions of the political players, “Endgame” uses the exact same tools, but to lesser effect.
Travis bombards us with ultra-tight handheld close-ups, dramatic pauses and lingering silent reaction shots to punctuate drama which doesn't seem to be there. Even Martin Phipps' quiet pulsating beats and ambient undercurrents exactly like Alexandre Desplat’s “Syriana” score. So much so it borders on theft.
All of these spy games seem to be rendered moot when, in the final act, F.W. De Klerk takes power and becomes the deux ex machina which cuts through all of the political sneaking around from the previous 90mins. In the end, I can only think, what just happened, who did what and why? An emotional ending is sadly wasted on a subpar film.