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Endgame (2009)

Monterey // Unrated // February 9, 2010
List Price: $26.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted January 10, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Vantage Point director Pete Travis carries the burden of attempting to adapt the nonfiction novel The Fall of Apartheid, written by politician and author Robert Harvey, into a piece of work that's somehow both accurate and stimulating. The result is Endgame, a no-frills pot boiler of a historical thriller shot almost in a documentary fashion with shaky-camera movement and dusty visuals to pump up the realism. It attempts to journalize the events leading to Nelson Mandela's release in the late '80s during the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, a topic that receives quite a bit of attention in 2009, and comes out of the bunch with admiration for its grounded tact and sizzling performances.

More specifically, Endgame concentrates on the cloak and dagger discussions between the National Party and the African National Congress (ANC), first solicited by business-motivated Michael Young (Jonny Lee Miller of "Eli Stone) as a representative of mining firm Consolidated Gold to cool the unrest in the area. He brings together Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the rebellious spearhead for ANC, and Professor Willie Esterhuyse (William Hurt) to come to a conclusion about the weakening presidency of President P.W. Botha and the unrest brooding in the region. Their talks are initiated with middling motives from interested parties, but their resolve to quash apartheid in the area -- and ultimately free political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela -- rises up into an psychologically straining union with a set target in their sights. With terrorist efforts surrounding the political strife, they've got to play it safe.

Endgame crams a lot of history into its brisk, panicky 100+ minute sprint, all swelling around a central plot device that involves a group of men having roundtable discussions. It'd be a triumph to make that out to be a tense affair for our eyes, and director Pete Travis is up to task. He gives gravity to their talks in the English countryhouse, replicating the events that occurred with a precision that emphasizes every line of dialogue, every movement towards freedom. The demeanor is naturally stiff, mind you, so the air is thick even when situations don't call for it. But when a hidden strategic conversation between two men on a grassy hill takes place outside of already hidden talks and it still retains a level of nail-biting intensity, you know you've got all of your ducks firmly in a row.

Naturally, both Chiwetel Ejiofor and William Hurt are potent casting decisions for Thabo Mbeki and Willie Esterhuyse respectively. Golden Globe nominee Ejiofor resembles Mbeki to great lengths, not so much for his physical attributes but for the way he's nailed down his speech and disposition. He continues to impress with his capacity to grasp the screen, especially in sociologically relevant productions similar to Dirty Pretty Things and Children of Men. The same can be said for William Hurt's accurate projection of Esterhuyse, delivered with a calm temerity that's inspiring. The energy created between the two becomes an entity of its own, however, assembling into a great meeting of the minds that's dazzling to witness on even a purely dramatic level. But probably the biggest surprise comes in Jonny Lee Miller's turn as Michael Young. He balances the weasel-like nature of the character well with a sense of greater purpose. And, though he's only seen through a modicum of sequences, Clark Peters offers one of the better projections of Nelson Mandela I've seen.

However, the film's successful tone and powerful performances can't dismiss the fact that there's a lot of material swirling outside the secret negotiation's stratosphere, something that Endgame cannot completely convey in its time with the audience. Like the title suggests, it follows the conclusion to a conflict, and we've got to try and pick it up whilst diving into the picture's tension. It illustrates Mandela, through scattered quick shots into his jail cell, as a falsely imprisoned man -- a figurehead for our story -- who commands respect. Yet the concentration here powers forward to a resolution for a clash that's not underlined with enough clarity here, at least for those unaware of its nature, to grasp. The ANC and the National Party are butting heads over political and social injustice, and these talks will pave a path for peace and righted injustice. That's what the viewer can discern from the dervish of political dust-kicking, which is what truly matters, but the full content is too thick in its outskirts to ensnare completely on its own.

So, essentially, we can look at Endgame as both an accomplishment of political suspense and as a climactic appendage to other films about the subject, such as Cry Freedom and Goodbye Barafa -- not to mention as a forward to Clint Eastwood's Invictus. If anything, it left me gripped because of its projection of the passionate efforts in two men striving for sovereignty, along with their willingness to delve into dangerous grounds for a greater purpose. As Pete Travis' film comes to a close, with the dust settling and history revealed through archival footage with a group of great minds huddled around a television, it caps off the sweat-inducing temperament with an expected ray of hope. That, in itself, makes the bustling nerves of the picture worth the time.

The DVD:

Video and Audio:

Monterey Video have presented Endgame in an anamorphic image of the film maintaining a 1.77:1 aspect ratio, preserving the 16mm low-clarity look throughout. Now, if IMDB is to be trusted in this case, the originally-intended aspect ratio as shot by Pete Travis and cinematographer David Odd is 2.35:1 -- potentially zoomed in for this presentation. This also happens to be the aspect ratio misprinted on the back of the DVD cover. However, this film has also shown on television via the UK's Channel 4 network and presented in many trailers at 1.77-1.85:1, so it's unclear exactly what the correct image should look like. Monterey's image, in this context, maintains the grainy look of 16mm film while preserving tan-heavy tones and a somewhat stable range of motion as the camera moves, but it also carries aliasing and digital compression issues. The realistic aims that Endgame shoots for are preserved well enough here, so there's not a lot to complain about.

Audio comes in a predominately English 5.1 track that supports the film's stripped-down nature well enough. It carriages the sound design of the film with plenty of environmental awareness, keeping dialogue natural yet clear to the ear. Since the film is prominently about discussions and dialogue, complexity of sound design isn't exactly a big worry. A few elements trail to the rear channels and vie for attention against the pulsating soundtrack, which gives Endgame a swelling presence. No subtitles, aside from those burned into the image for languages other than English, are available.

Special Features:

What we've got for supplemental content, aside from a Trailer (16x9, 2:15), we've got a series of Interviews that covers most of the cast. Each interview, ranging from 6 to 11 minutes in length, stay somewhat surface-level in context. Interviews included are with: William Hurt, Jonny Lee Miller, Director Peter Travis, Producer David Aukin, Producer Hal Vogel, and Writer Paula Milne. Sadly, Chiwetel Ejiofor is not included with those interviewed.

Final Thoughts:

Pete Travis' Endgame sets out to pump suspenseful energy into a series of true events surrounding the talks that brought apartheid to its knees, and it accomplishes exactly that with strong performances and a sense of buzzling realism. Chiwetel Ejiofor and William Hurt are both excellent as the head-to-head brains behind the discussions, powering the film forward with a sense of hope and relentless tension behind their portrayals of the two historical figures. As per the title's meaning, it's the portrayal of game-changing talks that brought in an era of change for the region -- which the film presents with admirable, levelheaded posture. Whether Monterey's DVD is accurate to the filmmakers's aims is suspect due to the aspect ratio differences, but the film itself and the presentation here still come Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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