The Argentine, begins as Che and a band of Cuban exiles (led by Fidel Castro) reach the Cuban shore from Mexico in 1956. Within two years, they mobilized popular support and an army and toppled the U.S.-friendly regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Written by
Maybe the most refreshing thing about Che, both parts, is that its director, Steven Soderbergh, didn't know anything about Ernesto "Che" Guevara before taking on the project. This is like a good few in the audience, like yours truly. I didn't know much at all about Che except that he was involved with communist uprisings and revolutions, was buddy-buddy with Castro, and died in execution-style as a guerrilla (that, and his image appears on t-shirts everywhere). What Soderbergh provides for an audience that will go to see it for what he will do with the project- and what Benicio Del-Toro does with the character- is that it's a history lesson made vibrant and urgent and passionate and, according to the director in interviews and Q & A's, honest portrayal of events.
If this means that we may not get exactly a fully rounded portrait of its titular protagonist/hero, then that's probably the only real liability that the picture has. Maybe, perhaps, rightfully so; Che wasn't a guy, at least in his prime revolutionary years, to be one that had much warmth or moments of doubt (and if he had them, they were behind closed doors and out of any record of diaries). So what we get in Part 1, the conventional "Rise" of the character in the story, is the tale of how to do a revolution right- or rather, how to take over a government by military force, and it's Che as a man who pretty quickly becomes a natural leader, a stern taskmaster and also someone who "loves" as a revolutionary must, Che says.
It's gripping film-making nevertheless, with Soderbergh commanding the narrative wonderfully between a color-filmed part-digital-part-35mm Red-camera on the 1957-1959 events in Cuba and the 1964 trip to the UN in New York filmed in grainy black and white. What we get is part documentary and part bio-pic, words straight from the guerrilla's mouth, as it were, and the events that led up to the take-over (which serves as the climax of the picture) in Santa Clara, Cuba. Some of the elements, as noted, are conventional of just a war picture: we get the young kids (16 and 14) who will do anything to fight with Guevara and his group; we get the supposed love interest, only (thankfully) muted with only one scene with small talk; and we get the moments of enthusiasm, humor, camaraderie, and unlikely bravery in the heat of battle.
But most importantly we see Benicio del-Toro take command of this role like he does seemingly often but rarely with such force. In fact, he probably elevates this Che past some possible pit-falls (this project was actually his baby, as he serves as co-producer and developed the project for years), and makes him as human as he can be, using Che's health-tic (asthma) to its fullest, and reveling in going for broke as far as gusto and revelation go. For all of Soderbergh's command of the film-making style- most of all, for me, during the climactic battle where we get to see him awesomely direct a battle sequence- del-Toro, for any scene he's in, steals the show. If for nothing else, whatever your political stance or thoughts on Che, he's worth the admission. 8.5/10
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