Endgame (2009) is a political drama and thriller based on the covert discussions that led to the end of Apartheid in South Africa and mustn't be confused with End Game (2006), a conspiracy thriller starring Cuba Gooding Jr. The term 'endgame' is a clever title for this Pete Travis film. It means the final stage in a process of events, describing the closing stages of a Chess game when most of the pieces have been removed from the board. The symbolism of white versus black, the strategy, the delicate balance of power all feed back into the story, a gripping historical depiction of the back room discussions held in London and their repercussions for South Africa as a country.
Michael Young (Miller), a senior employee at Consolidated Gold, a London-based mining company, instigates a secret meeting between the African National Congress headed by Thabo Mbeki (Ejiofor) and the National Party with Professor Will Esterhuyse (Hurt), a firm believer in social justice as mediator. The negotiations are heated at first as both sides try to strong-arm for ascendancy. Meanwhile the violence in South Africa is escalating with limpet mines and car bombs putting the government in a state of emergency. The Apartheid government try to use the talks to nullify the national crisis, while earnest attempts to find a middle ground from the ANC go in vain.
Endgame is a well-crafted political drama and thriller from Vantage Point's Pete Travis. The emphasis is on drama as the focus shifts between South Africa and England with high-powered individuals locked in a game of social politics. The film attempts to recreate the severe political climate of the day with key scenes depicting car bombs, "post box" bombs and a general mistrust between black and white South Africans. These elements add an edge to the proceedings, heighten the emotion and generate an intensity and urgency to the meetings, while Travis gives the heavy dialogue more clout against an air of uncertainty and turmoil.
The movie is shot on location and looks the part with old South African police vehicles and classic product references to take the audience back in time. It's a fascinating story for the uninformed, who were unaware of these secret talks or how integral they were to Mandela's release and the transition in F.W. De Klerk's term of presidency. Four key players are given the credit according to Endgame: Thabo Mbeki, Will Esterhuyse, Nelson Mandela and Michael Young for initiating the talks.
The performances are solid with another fine turn by Chiwetel Ejiofor as Thabo Mbeki. Jonny Lee Miller is convincing as Michael Young, who quietly introduces the story only to drop back into role of facilitator. Mark Strong creates yet another dark malevolent force as an Apartheid agent in Dr. Niel Barnard. Then William Hurt delivers a well-rounded take on Professor Will Esterhuyse with one of the best on-screen Hollywood South African accents yet. Clarke Peters looks to be an aspect of the great Madiba and fills the placeholder with a good effort, although doesn't carry the screen time or grace to rival Morgan Freeman's take in Invictus.
Endgame's drama is reinforced by a solid cast, adding weight to the story and driving an intricate and entertaining script by experienced TV screenwriter, Paula Milne. The direction counterbalances the wordy script with bursts of thrilling suspense as men in suits watch over and threats from government manipulate the taut political situation. However, the sum of these parts doesn't reach their full potential with Endgame sliding into overtime.
The intense drama is all the more gripping for its script, infotainment and direction, but still seems to make a meal of a turning point, which didn't really garner much post-Apartheid media interest. Furthermore, Endgame comes at a time when South Africans are looking to bigger and brighter things, instead of dwelling on the echoes of a dark past. It's a solid production, competent to its core, but there's nothing magical or exciting enough to make it anything more than just another Apartheid film in the same league as Goodbye Bafana, Catch A Fire and A Dry White Season.
The bottom line: Effective.