Che (Part One & Part Two)

Cast:

Part 1
Benicio Del Toro as Ernesto Che Guevara
Julia Ormond as Lisa Howard
Rodrigo Santoro as Raúl Castro
María Isabel Díaz as María Antonia
Demián Bichir as Fidel Castro
Ramon Fernandez as Hector
Yul Vazquez as Alejandro Ramirez
Jose Caro as Esteban
Pedro Adorno as Epifanío Díaz
Jsu Garcia as Jorge Sotus

Part 2
Benicio Del Toro as Ernesto Che Guevara
Demián Bichir as Fidel Castro
Rodrigo Santoro as Raul Castro
Catalina Sandino Moreno as Aleida March
María D. Sosa as Aledita
Othello Rensoli as Pombo
Franka Potente as Tania
Norman Santiago as Tuma
Joaquim de Almeida as President René Barrientos
Pablo Durán as Pacho
Ezequiel Diaz as Loro
Juan Salinas as Polo

Summary:
Anyone trying to learn more about Ernesto “Che” Guevara won’t learn much from these two films. They gloss over the revolutionary’s controversial side and don’t fully explore why he’s idolized. Throw in some slow pacing and a long running time and it becomes quite tedious.

Story:
Che is made up of two films released simultaneously in theaters. The following is the official description of Part 1:

“On November 26, 1956, Fidel Castro sails to Cuba with eighty rebels. One of those rebels is Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentine doctor who shares a common goal with Fidel Castro – to overthrow the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

Che proves indispensable as a fighter, and quickly grasps the art of guerrilla warfare. As he throws himself into the struggle, Che is embraced by his comrades and the Cuban people. The film tracks Che’s rise in the Cuban Revolution, from doctor to commander to revolutionary hero.”

The following is the official description of Part 2:

“After the Cuban Revolution, Che is at the height of his fame and power. Then he disappears, re-emerging incognito in Bolivia, where he organizes a small group of Cuban comrades and Bolivian recruits to start the great Latin American Revolution.

The story of the Bolivian campaign is a tale of tenacity, sacrifice, idealism, and of guerrilla warfare that ultimately fails, bringing Che to his death. Through this story, we come to understand how Che remains a symbol of idealism and heroism that lives in the hearts of people around the world.”

“Che” – Part One & Part Two are rated R for some violence.

The Movie:
I went into “Che” knowing very little about the man. I knew about Ernesto Che Guevara’s early life from seeing “The Motorcycle Diaries.” I knew he used to be a medical student before becoming a Communist and a revolutionary. I knew he worked with Castro during the Cuban revolution. I knew a lot of people hate him and he was responsible for the executions of a lot of Cubans. I knew a lot of people loved him for helping out the peasants. I knew a lot of people wear his image on shirts and they probably know less than I do about the guy. So I delved into Steven Soderbergh’s 4-hour plus epic hoping to come out the other side knowing more about Che and why people love him and hate him. Unfortunately, this film failed miserably at that.

“Che Part One” follows the revolutionary leader from the time he leaves Mexico for Cuba up until the end of the Cuban Revolution. It essentially stops short of where his executions start taking place. “Che Part Two” picks up after they all happen, so you never see him ordering the deaths of dissidents or any of the other things people hate him for. The only people you see him executing are deserters who rape and murder a family of peasants. Can’t argue about that. So this film really isn’t very balanced when it comes to the controversial side of Che.

That being said, the movie doesn’t show much reason why he’s loved either. The vast majority of Part One and Part Two just show him and the revolutionaries roaming around the jungle and evading the military. We see him interact with peasants a little. He promises them education, land, and healthcare. Who can blame poor farmers for loving him for that? But the movie never actually shows him making the country better or even following through on any of his promises. He’s not charming, pretty, or inspiring. About all we see him do is bring discipline and organization to the otherwise incompetent, unorganized, or unfocused revolutionaries. That’s not enough to walk away from the film concluding he’s a great man. So the movie doesn’t make much of a case for loving him or hating him.

“Che” has some other fatal flaws, too. It starts out showing you maps of Cuba and Bolivia and flashing the geography up on the screen while slow music plays. This feels like it last 5 minutes at the start of each movie, and there’s no dialogue or back history. It’s not exactly a rousing start to the film and you soon forget what it shows you. The two movies also seem to assume you know something about Che and the Cuban revolution before you walk into the film. If you don’t, you’ll be pretty lost for a good portion of the movies. Without having some clue as to what’s going on, it’s just a lot of footage of revolutionaries running through the jungle and getting into occasional firefights. When you do start actually understanding the progress of the revolution… the movie ends. I expected Part Two to pick up immediately after Part One, but that wasn’t the case. It picks up years later and you find yourself in catch up mode again unless you’re up on your Bolivian politics. Throw in the fact that the pacing is very slow and methodical as well as being well over four hours long and you end up having a bit of a tedious moviegoing experience.

On the positive side, Steven Soderbergh has created a good-looking movie considering he just had a camera with a few guys in the jungle. Credit the beautiful locations he shot in for a lot of that. Benicio Del Toro is also OK as Ernesto Che Guevara. He goes through a lot of physical transformations and is an intimidating presence. I just wish he had a better script to work with. There’s also a bizarre and very brief cameo by Matt Damon as a missionary in Bolivia trying to negotiate with Che. It comes out of nowhere, but it does get your attention after hours of seeing guys running through the forest.

This could have been a much better film if Steven Soderbergh had chosen to depict the controversial side of Che, if he had paced the movie better, and if he had focused more on Che’s accomplishments after the revolution rather than the revolution itself. This film isn’t balanced or informative or entertaining.

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