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Endgame

Feature debut of British writer/director Gary Wicks, "Endgame" is a thriller in much the same vein as "Sexy Beast" and "Gangster No. 1." The twist is that the lead gangster has a "rent boy" -- i.e., a cute, kept catamite -- stashed in an apartment for his personal pleasure. The combination of gay subject matter and gruelingly sadistic violence will make this a tough sell, even on the arthouse circuit.

Feature debut of British writer/director Gary Wicks, “Endgame” is a thriller in much the same vein as “Sexy Beast” and “Gangster No. 1.” The twist is that the lead gangster has a “rent boy” — i.e., a cute, kept catamite — stashed in an apartment for his personal pleasure. The combination of gay subject matter and gruelingly sadistic violence will make this a tough sell, even on the arthouse circuit.

Wicks starts off strong, intercutting scenes of three men whose connections are not immediately apparent. We see Tom (Daniel Newman), a buff young man, sitting around his flat, bored and depressed; George Norris (Mark McGann), seemingly a businessman, taking meetings, going home to the suburbs, accompanying his wife and son to a concert; and Max Bergman (Corey Johnson), an American arbitrageur whose life seems intolerably stressful.

We shortly discover Norris is a gangland boss; Tom is the boy he secretly keeps on the side; and Max and his wife, Nikki (Toni Barry), live in an apartment a few doors down from Tom. To their eventual misfortune, they strike up a friendship with their odd, withdrawn young neighbor.

Norris doesn’t just use Tom for sex. He also loans him out to business associates for a quick bit of rumpy-pumpy in the back room — which activities are videotaped and subsequently employed to blackmail associates who take advantage of this “perk.” Norris’ sexual encounters with Tom switch from cooing affection to brutal assault with startling alacrity.

When one of these encounters ends violently, Tom must take it on the lam. He pleads with the Bergmans, his only friends, to help him get out of town. Unfortunately, a corrupt cop (John Benfield), who had dealings with both Norris and Tom, realizes Tom has taken with him the tapes of their more-than-social intercourse, and he gives chase.

Wicks knows how to shoot really horrifying violence: that is, we don’t see that much blood or guts. Instead the anticipation and reactions register on the victims’ faces, accompanied by evocative sound effects that taken together, are more brutal than if we were actually shown what was going on. While, to be fair, there are early scenes that give the viewer warning, still the torture scene about three-quarters through caused loud murmurs and then walkouts at the first Palm Springs screening.

Much the same might be said of the violence in “Sexy Beast,” the most obvious comparison. But the excess feels more gratuitous here. Despite a lot of emotional subtext, some of it clunky in its presentation, we are left by the end with no feeling of catharsis, just the sense of having been fed through a meat grinder.

McGann is truly chilling as Norris, and Newman and Benfield hold their own. Johnson’s performance is irritating at first, until we realize it’s the character who’s irritating. Barry’s work feels flat compared with the others.

Tech credits are first-rate throughout, though on occasion, the music is more melodramatic than the scene deserves.

Endgame

U.K.

  • Production: A TLA release of a Various Films Ltd. production. (International sales: Vine International Pictures, Kent.) Produced by Gary Jones. Executive producer, Evolution Films Ltd. Directed, written by Gary Wicks.
  • Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Dave Bennett; editor, Kerry Kohler; music, Adrian Thomas; production designer, Martyn John; sound, Jon Rhodda; associate producer, Laurence Floyd; assistant director, Jez Oakley. Reviewed at Palm Springs International Film Festival, Palm Springs, Jan. 11, 2003. Running time: 113 MIN.
  • With: Tom - Daniel Newman Max Bergman - Corey Johnson Nikke Bergman - Toni Barry Norris - Mark McGann Dunston - John Benfield