Reviews

Endgame

Endgame crafts a crackling thriller out of the tangle of crafty maneuvering and happenstance that put a stop to South Africa's apartheid.


Endgame

Director: Peter Travis
Cast: William Hurt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jonny Lee Miller, Clarke Peters, Mark Strong, Derek Jacobi
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year: 2009
US Release Date: 2009-11-06
Website
Trailer

The great events of history have a tendency to collapse into a few melodramatic snapshots that hardly do justice to the real thing. Just as the collapse of the Berlin Wall was precipitated by a more complex chain of events than Ronald Reagan snapping his fingers at Mikhail Gorbachev, so too apartheid’s end was brought down by more than the stubborn persistence of an imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Endgame crafts a crackling thriller out of the tangle of crafty maneuvering and happenstance that put a stop to South Africa's longstanding official segregation.

Based on Robert Harvey's book The Fall of Apartheid Paula Milne's script draws heavily from the stranger-than-fiction well. It begins in 1985 with rabbity businessman Michael Young (Jonny Lee Miller) stealing through a township that's on the verge of revolt, looking to meet with representatives of the African National Congress. He approaches a respected professor, Willie Esterhuyse (William Hurt, notching up another of his atrocious accents), who has often criticized the white government's policies. By 1987, Young achieves his goal: members of South Africa's white intelligentsia and the ANC sit across the table from each other in a fine dining room at a Somerset estate, ready to start talking. Their focus is not whether, but how apartheid is going to end, and how to handle the transition.

Endgame starkly sets itself apart from other apartheid-era dramas like Catch a Fire and Cry Freedom in a number of ways. For one, though shot with a jittery handheld thriller aesthetic, and even indulging in the occasional chase scene or car bomb, it ultimately sees such action as sideshows to the main event. As indicated by a scene in which a black militant group detonates a bomb in a civilian area, director Peter Travis has little interest in whitewashing the methods of the ANC and its allies. The film also doesn't waste much breath having its players debate the merits of apartheid. This isn't the expected story of idealism triumphant, but rather a more nuanced one of pragmatism and survival. No matter what side they're on, everyone here knows that apartheid's days are numbered. It's just a question of keeping the endgame as orderly as possible. They leave the false drama to the journalists.

Just so, the impresario of the conference, Young, isn't some professional peace-seeker, but rather an employee of a huge mining company that wants to make sure its business concerns aren't jeopardized by civil unrest. Though spiteful towards the government operatives who try to use him as a spy, Esterhuyse doesn't take the ANC delegates as allied enemies of apartheid. Rather, he fulminates against their use of violent tactics and admits (in a moment of quite breathtaking honesty) that he and other South African whites fear the end of apartheid because they worry they will be accountable for their sins. On the ANC side, Thabo Mbeki (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor with his customary tightly-wound cool) seems tired of playing the flag-bearing revolutionary and ready to take his place as an elected representative of his people.

Endgame comes closest to hero worship in its depiction of Nelson Mandela (a greyed Clarke Peters), who spends most of the film in prison, where he is allotted increasing liberties by the authorities who are desperate to use him as a calming force for a country rapidly coming apart at the seams. But given Mandela's historical stature, not to mention his frequent appearance here next to diffident prison guards or manipulative intelligence operatives, it would be difficult for him not to come off as something of a giant.

While abnormally astute in detailing the frustrating give-and-take of the years-long diplomacy that paved the way for majority rule in South Africa, Endgame falters when it comes to showing how the government finally relents. After all the attention given to the delicate relationship between Mbeki and Esterhuyse, they're deprived of much to do when other, less detailed characters begin making the major decisions. Indeed, the critical moment of reconciliation arrives like a thief in the night, quiet and unexpected. Still, it takes your breath away.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image