Benicio Del Toro as Ernesto "Che" Guevara,
pictured in a special booklet from Steven Soderbergh's films "Che Part One" and
"Che Part Two", which expanded their release across much of the U.S. and Canada
on January 16.
THE POPCORN REEL FILM REVIEW/"Che" (Part One) "Che"
A Methodical Tactician, A Resolute
Omar P.L. Moore/January
Steven Soderbergh has taken on a versatility of projects in his prolific
filmmaking career, from the color, sleekness and bluster of the "Ocean's Eleven"
series to the dramatic power and heat of "Traffic", to the compelling intimacy
of small films like "Bubble" and "Full Frontal" to the unexpected effect of his
debut film "sex, lies and videotape". With his latest, "Che", an epic of
illumination, directness and practicality, Mr. Soderbergh captures a revolution
that wasn't televised to great effect, in Part One of "Che", based on Ernesto "Che"
Guevara's "Reminisces Of The Cuban Revolutionary War", a memoir of the
Argentine-born doctor-turned-revolutionary guerilla for Cuba and Fidel Castro in
the quest to overthrow the harsh regime of Fulgencio Batista in the late 1950's.
Benicio Del Toro, whom Mr. Soderbergh directed to an Oscar in "Traffic", anchors
both parts of "Che". In Part One he's building his strength as the
charismatic, enigmatic and very doctrinaire leader. Mr. Del Toro is highly
persuasive, pouring his all into the role without forcing us to believe.
He becomes Che through action, not through personal trait or insignia.
This makes Mr. Guevara, who in real life was somewhat distant if not aloof,
something of an emotional mystery to moviegoing audiences. Action however,
is character, and Mr. Del Toro encapsulates the man and his passion for
social and economic justice in several scenes both shot from afar and close up,
scenes that have both a quiet strength and a matter-of-factness to them that are
peaceful and impacting on numerous levels. Mr. Soderbergh's Part One
slowly and steadily progresses, albeit without the manufactured devices or
enticements that other films on noted historical figures, with Mr. Soderbergh's
cinematography -- his pseudonym is Peter Andrews, named after his father -- as
the highlight of Part One, its naturalistic visions and textures at times boring
through the screen as if trying to pull us in. Captured impressively is
the 1958 Battle Of Les Mercedes, the war which essentially breaks the final
remaining vertebrae of the U.S.-supported Batista dictatorship. Mr. Del
Toro's work during these sequences is particularly noteworthy, as is his
portrayal during his famous speech at the United Nations in 1964, which is shot
in black and white.
Aside from Mr. Del Toro in Part One are solid performances by Demian Bechir as
Fidel Castro, with Mr. Bechir a towering yet unobtrusive presence. Both
actors play off each other very well. And Rodrigo Santoro (who was in "The
Motorcycle Diaries") plays Raul Castro.
With: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Yul Vasquez , Ramon Fernandez and Julia Ormond.
"Part One" is written by Peter Buchman. "Part One" running time is two
hours and eight minutes. MPAA rating: Unrated.
In Part Two, which is based on Mr. Guevara's "The Bolivian Diary", Mr. Del Toro
continues his mastery of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, this time in the mid-1960's,
seeking to lead a revolt against the Bolivian government. After a
self-imposed exile, Mr. Guevara disguised himself and entered Bolivia, soon
building an army of rebels who would wage a revolutionary war which ultimately
failed. Mr. Soderbergh's camera here is more urgent and intrusive,
handheld shots dominating the frame. The director succeeds in making Part
Two an effective hybrid of action film and documentary, although one could also
say that Part Two is the action, where Part One is the documentary. There
are a few traces of battle scenes evoking the extraordinary classic
black-and-white film "The Battle Of Algiers", though that film is still singular
almost 50 years later in its shocking ability to be so powerfully real as a
non-documentary feature film. Much of Part Two is shot cinema-verite
style, creating a feeling of being on the ground as Mr. Guevara the
revolutionary guerilla leader is in the thick of the fighting, which
collectively occupies almost an hour of the film. Occasionally the battle
scenes are interrupted by moments of pure beauty or reflection, with the
cinematography more personal to Mr. Guevara's point of view. This perhaps,
is the closest we get to the man himself, though we still don't feel we know him
on a personal level.
Mr. Soderbergh makes use of one of his "Ocean's" alumnus in Part Two and that
person's presence in a cameo doesn't at all disrupt the film, which is
completely absorbing without being overwhelming or exhausting. There's
another cameo that likewise doesn't stop the film in its tracks. Mr.
Bechir continues to do well as Fidel Castro, attaining a credibility and
presence that grows. Throughout, we see how the people of Cuba relate to
Mr. Guevara as much as they do Mr. Castro if not more, treating Mr. Guevara like
a rock star, even while the film (both parts) does not. The real Mr.
Guevara may have been a mystery but he was well-loved by the people he fought
for. Catalina Sandino Moreno has a more prominent role as Aleida, the
woman Mr. Guevara marries after having a months-long affair with her while still
married to his first wife. Ms. Moreno, whose work in "Maria, Full Of
Grace" and "The Hottest State", is quite striking, is economical here in her
role as the committed wife of a revolutionary. Aleida is an integral
component of the actions and philosophies espoused by her husband. There's
some good work in small roles by Othello Rensoli as Pombo, a revolutionary
soldier in Mr. Guevara's guerilla army; Norman Santiago as Tuma, another trusted
soldier, and Franka Potente as Tania, who enthusiastically wishes to aid in Mr.
Guevara's revolutionary cause.
With: Oscar Aviles, Ruben Salinas, Diego Ortiz, Marise Alvarez and Carlos Bardem.
"Part Two" is written by Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. Van Der Been. Part
Two running time is two hours and nine minutes. Rating: Unrated, but
includes violence, as well as brief violence against a horse.
As a film Part One is stronger, but as a drama Part Two is more vivid and
exciting. Mr. Soderbergh achieves a vision that soaks us. He neither
exalts, exasperates nor explains Che Guevara, he does the wisest thing of all:
he shows us a fascinating man at work.
"Che Part One" and "Che Part Two" require separate admission for each film
and expanded their releases yesterday in San Francisco and several other U.S.
cities. On Wednesday, January 21 both films will be released as a video on
demand in the U.S., with further theatrical expansion in North America on
The Popcorn Reel Hot Minute YouTube Review:
"Che Part One" and "Che Part Two"
Related: The Popcorn Reel Sunday Popcorn Profile - Steven Soderbergh
talks "Che" and Hollywood vs. Independent Filmmaking
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