Thursday, April 22, 2010

Endgame: Grade B

Endgame (2009)

William Hurt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Johnny Lee Miller, Clark Peters. Director Pete Travis.

I have often wondered how, exactly, the apartheid regime in South Africa fell without civil war. I have the same question about the fall of the Soviet Union. When the dominant group has all the political power, all the money, all the jobs, all the guns, what motivates them to yield to change?

If I were not so lazy I could read the history books and find out. But this docudrama answers the question for South Africa to my satisfaction. There were secret talks held between the two sides, Afrikans professor Will Esterhuyse (Hurt) who secretly was working for government intelligence, and Thabo Mbeki of the ANC (Ejiofor). The personal relationship that develops between those two men goes a long way to explaining what happened.

There are political facts too, of course. F.W. de Klerk decided to pursue reconciliation soon after taking office (for reasons not made clear in this movie), and for that, rightfully shared the 1993 Nobel peace prize with Nelson Mandela. There is not much action in this movie beyond newsreel footage of riots in the streets. Instead the drama is entirely “inner,” psychological.

Unfortunately, you do have to know a bit about recent South African history to appreciate the full depth of that drama, and even to keep the characters straight, so this would be an excellent film to show in a college classroom, but maybe not so enjoyable for someone who does not have a clue about the fall of the apartheid regime.

The acting is good, especially by Ejiofor, and the cinematography compelling. Location sets are interesting. The sound directing is so bad it almost spoils the entire picture unfortunately. Little sounds are way overmiked, volumes are far too variable, and obnoxious, irrelevant music is a poke in the ears. Beyond that however, the film is extremely worthwhile.

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