Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Premise: A two-part bio-pic of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a Communist revolutionary. The first part tells the story of Guevara ‘s support for Fidel Castro and his role in the revolution in Cuba. The second part follows Guevara’s work in Bolivia.
What Works: The first part of Che is very well done and the film takes on the look and style of Oliver Stone films like JFK and Nixon. Part I alternates between Che’s role as a military leader in the Cuban revolution and his appearance before the United Nations in which he defends the actions of his country. By cutting across the timeline the film juxtaposes Che’s ideals and his actions and the film presents him as a man of the highest integrity. That integrity and charisma aids him in mobilizing the Cuban peasants. At the same time, Che is shown to make hard decisions as he transforms the men and women under his command into disciplined soldiers. He is not always successful as well intentioned soldiers quit after facing the hardships of soldiering and still others betray the idealism of the revolution. Part I succeeds in defining exactly what the revolution’s goals are and keeping focus on them as Che leads his soldiers against the standing government. Benicio Del Toro is very good as Che Guevara and his performance and the film’s presentation of the character avoid the usual elevation or hero worship, keeping the character in human dimensions. There is also a notable supporting performance by Demián Bichir as Fidel Castro. While Che is the military arm behind the revolution, Castro is portrayed as the political strategist and their scenes together hint at some tension between the idealist and the pragmatist.
What Doesn’t: Che: Part II is not as good as the first half. While following Che’s attempts to initiate a revolution in Bolivia, the film lacks any clear goals or sense of geography. Instead, the revolutionaries stumble around the jungle and the film offers little perspective on what exactly they are attempting to do, why this revolution failed, and what truths can be gleaned from Che Guevara’s life. It’s a disappointing second half after the promise of the first part.
Bottom Line: Che is an ambitious film but it is not clear what the filmmakers think about Guevera, his life, or the legacy of his actions and so the film adds up to a question mark instead of an exclamation point.
Episode: #225 (February 1, 2009)