Ambitious, provocative, and thoughtful—but ultimately jumbled because its reach exceeds its grasp—End of the Game is a twisty whodunit that intertwines the resolution of an epic conflict between two aging enemies with the melodrama of young characters drawn into a scheme beyond their understanding. If that already strikes you as a confusing premise, then you’ve lit upon this highly admirable picture’s main problem: End of the Game tries to tell at least one story too many, and, as a result, all of its narrative elements get short shrift. The movie gets all sorts of points for trying to make a complex statement about morality, but the statement is neither clear nor forcefully expressed.
Martin Ritt, appearing here as an actor but better known to audiences as a director of sensitive dramas, is appealingly rumpled as a veteran Swiss detective named Baerlach, who has spent decades trying to prove that a powerful industrialist named Gastman (Robert Shaw) once killed a woman. For cold-blooded Gastman, getting away with murder is the ultimate aphrodisiac, so he relishes watching his old adversary struggle with clues and evidence; furthermore, Gastman uses lethal force to protect himself whenever Baerlach gets too close to closing the case. After Baerlach’s aide (Donald Sutherland) dies mysteriously, the relentless investigator decides Gastman was responsible, so he sends an eager young cop (Jon Voight) after Gastman, which unexpectedly draws the young cop’s lover (Jacqueline Bisset) into the intrigue.
End of the Game was directed by Austrian hyphenate Maximilian Schell, best known as a leading and supporting actor in international movies; unsurprisingly, the flamboyance of his performance style carries over to his directorial approach. (Schell co-wrote the script with German author Friedrich Durrenmatt, upon whose novel the film is based.) Attractive European locations enhance the theme, because it’s as if the “game” has been played since the ancient bridges and buildings surrounding the characters were first erected. More importantly, Schell put together a terrific cast, and the valiant efforts of his leading players make the picture consistently watchable—even when the story becomes impossibly convoluted, the actors ensure that individual scenes are credible and tense.
The premise of aging adversaries using younger people as pawns is interesting, and the juxtaposition of wise older characters and reckless younger ones gives the picture an existential quality: Everyone in this movie seems to be grasping for the deeper meaning of his or her own life. So, even though End of the Game doesn’t ultimately make all that much sense, it’s worthwhile because what it’s trying to accomplish is so interesting from a psychological perspective.
End of the Game: FUNKY