It’s the late 1980s in South Africa. The most important political prisoner of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela (a miscast Clarke Peters), is being readied for his release as brutal violence and unrest are reaching a boiling point. Realizing that civil war is very bad for its African interests, a powerful English gold trading firm sends a conscientious PR flack (Jonny Lee Miller) to set-up secret negotiations. Will Esterhuyse (William Hurt), a centrist Afrikaner academic, is dragooned into going into those negotiations to act as a spy for the brutal neo-fascist white supremacist apartheid regime. Eventually, however, he finds himself actually forging common ground and heroically comes clean to the leader of the ANC delegation, future South African President Thabo Mbeki (Chiwitel Ejiorfor).
Unfortunately, director Pete Travis (“Vantage Point“) tries to make what actually should be a rather traditional PBS production into an over-amped action thriller, despite the reality that the real “action” of this story amounts to several white guys and black guys sitting around talking. Travis’s disinterest in the actual content of the story, his irritating and pointless reliance on jarring editing and sound effects, and a hideous audio mix which often makes the dialogue impossible to understand without turning up the volume to painful levels, destroys the inherent drama of the story as well as strong performances from some great actors. It’s a crime because, “Invictus” notwithstanding, the story of how apartheid ended without the catastrophic bloodbath the world fully expected still demands to be told on screen.
Click to buy “Endgame”
I usually do this on Friday, but the interesting film related stories have been coming fairly hot and heavy all week and it’s time to play catch up. I’m telling you right now, as long as this post is, whatever the most important and interesting story from this eventful week turns out to be, it’ll be the one I skip.
* When I first heard about the project a week or so back, I was taken by the prospect of screenwriter Dustin Lance Black segueing from a biopic about the first openly gay U.S. politician in “Milk” to one about by far the most powerful closeted gay man in American history, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was the first director of the FBI starting in 1935 and, in a real blow to our democracy, intimidated several presidents into keeping him in the position until his death in 1972, a shocking 37 years later.
An already interesting project got even more interesting, however, a couple of days back when word got out that none other than Clint Eastwood, who will be joining the very smal club of octogenerian directors this May, might choose to helm it. (The Playlist broke the news on the 10th that Eastwood was “set” to direct; yesterday Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that he was merely “eying” the project.).
Taken together with “Invictus,” this would be the second time the right leaning but independent-minded Republican would be taking on subject matter that deals obliquely with a significant moral failure of American conservatism. Nearly all well-known conservatives tacitly supported both the racist and fascist pre-Mandela South African regime and Hoover’s uninterrupted reign.
In the case of “Invictus,” the idea of him doing it turned out to be more interesting than the film. However, for the man who embodied “get tough” law enforcement concepts as Dirty Harry to take on a law enforcement figure who enjoyed getting tough with anyone who dared to espouse politics he deemed radical — but not the mafia — that’s a horse of a potentially very different color. One to watch.
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