Tuesday, February 3, 2009
A Frank Review of "Che: Part One & Part Two" (2008)
The Short Version? A Revolutionary Life.
What Is It? Docudrama.
Who's In It? Benicio Del Toro
Should I See It? No.
I've seen nine of director Steven Soderbergh twenty-five released films, and it occurs to me that there's only two I've ever had any inclination to see again afterward. While fairly left wing, I'm absolutely opposed to communism, and I'm more likely to be seen in one of those "Planet of the Apes" Che-parody shirts than the real thing. I suspect I am not the target audience for this picture. However, my date to this four & one-half hour theatrical ordeal (discounting a twenty minute intermission) was a self-proclaimed Latin American commie who counts both Che and Fidel Castro among her personal heroes, and even she only liked Part One. In essence, critics who would steer the average viewer to this feature need to extract their tongues from Soderbergh's pucker.
Che: Part One, (sometimes called "The Argentine") isn't your average bio-pic, in that it avoids exposition like the plague. It instead favors allowing one to feel they're in the presence of Ernesto Che Guevara as he relates anecdotes from his time fighting Batista. This angle removes any tension from the narrative, though it's interesting that despite his strong charisma, this interpretation of Che presents a humble, considerate soul. Most of the vision and strategy is credited to Fidel Castro, curiously played by Demián Bichir as a sort of South American Marty Scorsese. While Che is presented to be a capable, resolute individual and unimpeachable idealist, he also comes across as an largely insignificant mascot for the cause. While I appreciate Benicio Del Toro's low-key performance, calling it Oscar-worthy strikes me as ridiculous, though not nearly so much as a forty-year-old man trying to pass himself off as mid-20s. Remember when actresses of old were laughed off the screen for such hubris? I fail to see the resemblance, is what I'm saying. Ultimately, Che: Part One was a tepid, passable work, of interest only to the subject's followers
Che: Part Two (sometimes called "Guerrilla") was where the real trouble began. Much has been made of its, shall we say "deliberate" pacing? I feel that taken on its own, that aspect is overstated. However, beginning as it does near the three hour point of a Roadshow Presentation, it was already behind the eight ball. Further, if there was any question in your mind about the true merits of Che the man after Part One, you're liable to be overwhelmed with doubt in the second half. The entire picture seems to revolve around showing Che's every miscalculation, misstep, and outright bungle. In this portion, Che appears as an incompetent fool unable to exploit his own mystique, nor the significant resources provided by Castro to accomplish the tiniest semblance of success. The action is understated, there are virtually no other characters of note, and the ending seems to last an eternity. It is a lengthy study in human error, offering little else, and I have to question whether the fault lies in the real-life Che or the director of his biography. Speaking of failure, Mr. Soderbergh, was your intention for the audience to root for Che's execution, just to get the thing over with already?
A final warning: While technically an English-language film, the majority of the dialogue is in Spanish and subtitled. Well, at least this isn't another one of those films where every European speaks with an English accent, while every Latino sounds like Cheech Marin...
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