Endgame

Endgame : crikey. In the post-World Cup euphoria, it really is just too easy to forget quite how far we’ve come.

Endgame is a real-life political thriller that charts the efforts of Michael Young, unlikely hero, to facilitate secret talks between the bitterest of enemies: the ANC government-in-exile and members of the Afrikaner elite. Against a backdrop of brute violence, thuggish intimidation, smuggled correspondence, surveillance, counter-espionage, and the bullish extremism of members of both groups, Young’s idealistic negotiations uncovered a mutual sense of humanity and respect that ultimately resulted in the unbanning of opposition parties, the release of Nelson Mandela (belated happy bday, Madiba), dismantling of apartheid and the birth of the miraculous, unlikely, vibrant nation of modern South Africa.

So: “crikey” was what went through my mind all the way through the film. I kept wanting to grab the air stewardess and say “Did you see this? Have you seen this?” and share my amazement and excitement. I’m not sure if it’s actually great cinema, but I found it powerful, personal and passionate – and I’m increasingly believing that that is in fact what great cinema’s about. If you’re South African, it’s a must-see.

Endgame – shot and beautifully brushstroked in drained, grainy, 80’s home-movie style – jumps from South Africa, to the ANC hq in Lusaka, to London, with the stand out location being the elegant Mells Park near Frome in Somerset, where the meetings took place (though this was actually shot somewhere in Berkshire – I’m trying to find out where.) There’s a scene on the rugby field at Stellenbosch High School too; that one I recognised for myself.

Vantage Point

In Vantage Point, there’s an assassination attempt on the life of the President of the United States whilst he’s attending a big anti-terrorism summit in Salamanca, Spain. This chaotic exposition of bullet and bomb unfolds piece-by-piece, via six separate points-of-view, culminating in a car chase that features some of the best stunt driving action you’ll see in a movie this year.

Hallalujah for the producers decision to portray the Babel-esque linguistic confusion of a foreign attack (rather than yet another East Coast location). However, having settled for the elegance of Salamanca, there was a significant problem with actually blowing up a historic plaza. Therefore, the decision was made to build the famous plaza from scratch, in the suburbs of Mexico City. It took ten weeks, working seven days each week, with over three hundred workers to construct the set.

Executive Producer Callum Greene explains, “We found an abandoned four-story mall which became a perfect area for us. We built our construction, carpentry, metal work, and plastic shops in the abandoned mall. Next to it was a pit where we built our Plaza Mayor….. We were able to go back to Salamanca and shoot certain scenes there; the two blended together seamlessly. You really can’t tell what was shot in Spain and what was shot on our set.”

And as Emmanuel Levy notes; the key advantage to building your own set is that everyone is excited when it’s time to blow it up. 
From a film-making perspective, Vantage Point is rather classily handled. The six sections sit together well; each witness to the assassination provides important fragments of information so that the pennies drop exactly as they should. It’s well acted too, with the Hollywood grandees of Hurt, Weaver and Quaid doing particularly good stuff. But having said all that, there’s something flawed about the film – perhaps the film makers were so focussed on creating an intelligently constructed film that they forgot to develop the characters in any significant detail.

And ultimately, the carefully-honed plot is sunk by the insipid movie-cliche of the stupid little girl who blunders her way into the path of danger. (As Time Magazine’s reviewer so wryly puts it: It’s as if Dakota Fanning had wandered onto the streets of Ronin.) Given that the terrorists had just both killed AND kidnapped the American president, blown up a historic city killing and maiming hundreds of innocents AND suicide-bombed a hotel lobby, d’ya really think they would have braked to avoid a dumb-ass kid crossing the road?