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Che: Part One felt very complete and fulfilling. I found myself looking
at Ernesto "Che" Guevara as a very well rounded person. Not as an
ideological self fulfilling man but as an articulate man with thought
out rational decisions as well as a man with many useful talents.
The acting of the cast all around was very good but Benicio Del Toro took the movie by storm but he did this in a very subtle way. His performance displayed how Che's spirit was able to superseded the hardships faced in the Cuban Revolution. It did not display any brutality or recklessness but a devotion to a cause. Del Toro's perforations was that worthy of an Oscar nomination but I don't think Che Guervara cared to much about awards.
The directing by Steven Soderbergh was visually stunning at times with much of the scenes shot in the forest. What kept the movie upbeat though were the scenes of Che in New York giving interviews and addressing the U.N. It added an extra layer to the film allowing you to see another side of Che. The side in which he shows his political and speaking abilities. The writing was very good with the dialog always keeping you engrossed. The music, though not much of it, was very good and stayed within rhythm of the rest of the film.
Overall the film succeeds in showing Che as a well rounded man never developing into oversimplified or unnecessarily complex portrayal of a man. The movie was very accurate and refused to take on a role of being inspiring or Hollywoodish which I enjoyed. The only problem with the film I had was that it seems to have a little too much of a feel of a war film rather than a biopic. Still I highly recommend this film.
Ironically the most talked-about American film in the 2008 New York
Film Festival is 98% in Spanish. The extra-long film's controversy
began at the Cannes Festival. There were love-hate notices, and
considerable doubts about commercial prospects. As consolation the
star, Benicio Del Toro, got the Best Actor award there. I'm talking
about Steven Soderbergh's 'Che,' of course. That's the name it's going
by in this version, shown in New York as at Cannes in two 2-hour-plus
segments without opening title or end credits. 'Che' is certainly
appropriate since Ernesto "Che" Guevara is in almost every scene. Del
Toro is impressive, hanging in reliably through thick and thin, from
days of glorious victory in part one to months of humiliating defeat in
part two, appealing and simpatico in all his varied manifestations,
even disguised as a bald graying man to sneak into Bolivia. It's a
terrific performance; one wishes it had a better setting.
If you are patient enough to sit through the over four hours, with an intermission between the two sections, there are rewards. There's an authentic feel throughout--fortunately Soderbergh made the decision to film in Spanish (though some of the actors, oddly enough in the English segments especially, are wooden). You get a good outline of what guerrilla warfare, Che style, was like: the teaching, the recruitment of campesinos, the morality, the discipline, the hardship, and the fighting--as well as Che's gradual morphing from company doctor to full-fledged military leader. Use of a new 9-pound 35 mm-quality RED "digital high performance cine camera" that just became available in time for filming enabled DP Peter Andrews and his crew to produce images that are a bit cold, but at times still sing, and are always sharp and smooth.
The film is in two parts--Soderbergh is calling them two "films," and the plan is to release them commercially as such. First is The Argentine, depicting Che's leadership in jungle and town fighting that led up to the fall of Havana in the late 50's, and the second is Guerrilla, and concerns Che's failed effort nearly a decade later in Bolivia to spearhead a revolution, a fruitful mission that led to Guevara's capture and execution in 1967. The second part was to have been the original film and was written first and, I think, shot first. Producer Laura Bickford says that part two is more of a thriller, while part one is more of an action film with big battle scenes. Yes, but both parts have a lot in common--too much--since both spend a large part of their time following the guerrillas through rough country. Guerrilla an unmitigated downer since the Bolivian revolt was doomed from the start. The group of Cubans who tried to lead it didn't get a friendly reception from the Bolivian campesinos, who suspected foreigners, and thought of the Cuban communists as godless rapists. There is a third part, a kind of celebratory black and white interval made up of Che's speech at the United Nations in 1964 and interviews with him at that time, but that is inter-cut in the first segment. The first part also has Fidel and is considerably more upbeat, leading as it does to the victory in Santa Clara in 1959 that led to the fall of the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba.
During 'Guerilla' I kept thinking how this could indeed work as a quality European-style miniseries, which might begin with a shortened version of Walter Salles's 'Motorcycle Diaries' and go on to take us to Guevara's fateful meeting with Fidel in Mexico and enlistment in the 26th of July Movement. There could be much more about his extensive travels and diplomatic missions. This is far from a complete picture of the man, his childhood interest in chess, his lifelong interest in poetry, the books he wrote; even his international fame is only touched on. And what about his harsh, cruel side? Really what Soderbergh is most interested in isn't Che, but revolution, and guerrilla warfare. The lasting impression that the 4+ hours leave is of slogging through woods and jungle with wounded and sick men and women and idealistic dedication to a the cause of ending the tyranny of the rich. Someone mentioned being reminded of Terrence Malick's 'The Tin Red Line,' and yes, the meandering, episodic battle approach is similar; but 'The Thin Red Line' has stronger characters (hardly anybody emerges forcefully besides Che), and it's a really good film. This is an impressive, but unfinished and ill-fated, effort.
This 8-years-gestating, heavily researched labor of love (how many more Ocean's must come to pay for it?) is a vanity project, too long for a regular theatrical release and too short for a miniseries. Radical editing--or major expansion--would have made it into something more successful, and as it is it's a long slog, especially in the second half.
It's clear that this slogging could have been trimmed down, though it's not so clear what form the resulting film would have taken--but with a little bit of luck it might have been quite a good one.
In the first of the two Che films (this London Film Festival screening
I attended showed both The Argentine and Guerrilla back to back with an
intermission) we get all we might expect from a Soderbergh film. Detail
without obsessiveness; straightforward storytelling without diluting or
oversimplification. The period covered is the Cuban revolution from
inception to completion, with flashbacks of Guevara addressing the UN
in 1964. Though a large - and largely well-acted - ensemble film, Del
Toro dominates the screen. His presence, utterly submerged in his
character, gives the impression of a patient, caring Guevara, steely,
rather than fiery and almost never ill-tempered. I don't know if we are
given a balanced portrait of Guevara but this performance will win Del
Toro a best performing actor Oscar. The bookies might as well pay out
On top of the Soderbergh's own lush photography I was also stirred by Alberto Iglesias' insistent, original but unobtrusive score. By far the better of the two Che biopics. 8/10
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
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
Nothing quite like getting your teeth into an epic is there? Sitting
back and letting yourself get immersed into a struggle, a journey, in
this case the Cuban revolution that has become such a cause celebre for
many since the 1950s. By the time I left the cinema I sadly felt as
though the epic had been squashed down into an easily swallowed period
piece with all the epic grandeur of a Dan Brown novel. The problem with
Che Part One is that it doesn't say anything particularly interesting
or contain any memorable moments. There is lots and lots of shooting
which is actually fairly sanitised (this is certainly no Saving Private
Ryan), there is some mistreatment of people who are then avenged and
there are lots of shots of Benicio del Toro looking quite idealistic
Don't get me wrong, there is nothing specifically wrong with this film. It portrays a fairly accurate (if, as I said, sanitised) picture of the March on Santa Clara and the victory of Castro's rebels. However much in the same way as the kind of perpetually running museum film that you can dip in and out of it is largely uninspiring and leaves you feeling quite detached. The problem is not the direction or the acting which does manage to transport you into the heart of a Civil War ravaged Cuba. It is the fact that we learn next to nothing about Cuba, Che himself or the goals of the revolutionaries. We learn nothing of why the Batista regime was so bad that people wanted to overthrow it. Which means that this simply stands alone as a war film where there are lots of explosions, lots of running around and some scenes of people celebrating in the streets. While I understand from reports that Che Part Two is rather different I think that nevertheless the slight blandness of Che Part One means that, though it looks good, it does feel like a rather wasted opportunity.
When it comes to biopics, there are usually two discernibly
differentiated forms; the film, and the documentary. Of course, when I
use the word documentary, I don't mean it literally, but rather, as a
means to say that the approach its director takes it similar to those
used by directors of documentaries. Che, which comes in the shadow of a
recent but very different cousin W., is such a movie that exists not to
entertain or provide the viewer with any personal gratification outside
of historical and biographical information on its central figure and
topic. Where Oliver Stone decided to take a much more light-hearted,
human paintbrush to his canvas, Steven Soderbergh here uses stern,
almost completely serious shades, creating an informative and
compelling account of a man that became a living icon in our modern
culture. So like most of those that have come before it, Che is a movie
that is best appreciated under no pretence; this is a history lesson
disguised as film, and while it does tell a good story, those looking
for entertainment best look away.
Of course, the icon that I refer to is quite obviously Cuban revolutionist Ernesto 'Che' Guevara here played by Benicio Del Toro, a figure now embellished upon the memories of those with slightest interest in political history. If not, then you probably have his face on a t-shirt somewhere and you didn't know. Yet it doesn't matter how or why you know of Guevara before you view Che because Peter Buchman does a fine job of introducing you to him here. Plus, coupled with a performance that never begs for attention but instead simply plays the man he's supposed to be portraying with no overt padding, Del Toro goes a long way to giving Che the right amount of conviction that is needed to keep thing interesting and dynamic. Make no mistake, this is no dramatization of the man's life, so Del Toro never piles on the melodrama or anything to that degree to win over the audience, and this is reflected not only through the movie's ensemble of performances, but through the entire production itself.
Had the feature remained its original singular, five hour form however, a different opinion may have been garnered, but as it stands, the movie does well on its own merit. Part One, which details the initial struggle of the revolution of Cuba, is less about Guevara and more about his cause under the leadership of Fidel Castro. Granted, focus is shifted every now and again to set up part two's inevitable centralization upon Che himself, but for the most part, Part One remains more as a wide-angled view on the movement in which Guevara was part of. This shift in focus does well to once again distance the movie away from mere speculative entertainment and more towards the form of an educational informant. Yes, there are scenes that drag on and on, and generally some of these seem superfluous and dubious to the overall arc of the production, but for the most part, the script and direction remains coherent in its willingness to merely document rather than emote.
As a whole, Che's first half is an unassuming picture. At first glance, it isn't anything remotely special, and probably won't provide viewers with any degree of resonance if they are not interested in the man and his people's struggle beforehand, yet the same can be said for a number of similar features. Instead, I can only recommend this to those who are interested in the revolution and don't mind slow paced, attention-demanding material that does entertain from time to time, but only as a natural result of its historical importance. Again, those looking for a character piece similar to Stone's portrayal of George W. Bush last year would be wise to reevaluate their will to see Che; although titled after the man himself, and a biopic on a purely ostensible level, Che is more about his fight than the man himself. There are no real moments of personal insight here, no cathartic revelations or studies of psyche. No, instead the movie tells the facts as they were, straight from the horses mouth, and while they can sometimes work against the common desires of cinema goers' need for personal fulfillment, if digested objectively, can provide a strongly engaging, interesting and informative piece of historically significant art.
- A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
I always find director Steven Soderbergh's experiments interesting because they challenge the spectator and they go beyond the common.The Argentine also falls on that category.This a fascinating movie and it clearly is one of the best I have seen this year.Soderbergh made a wonderful work as a director because of the excellent performances he got from the cast and for his extreme attention to the details.Benicio del Toro brings a monumental performance as Che Guevara.He completely becomes on him and he never seems to be acting.Demián Bichir also brings a magnificent performance as Fidel Castro.This movie kept me very entertained and it brings a very valid and important message.The only fail I found on this movie was that it was a little bit long on a specific moment.But that's a minor fail.The Argentine is a fascinating experiment I liked very much.This is one of that movies which challenge the spectator and have something to say and I really admire that.I totally recommend this film.
Che Part One is an interesting and enjoyable film about the Cuban
revolution, that focuses on the infamous Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. The
story follows Che from his first meeting with Castro, to the climactic
battle in Santa Clara, where Batista's army makes its last stand
against the revolutionaries.
This battle scene is filmed guerrilla warfare style in an urban environment, with short bursts of action followed by silence as soldiers move into newer/better positions. It all feels very tense and realistic, which makes a nice change to the shaky cam explosion fests that we're used to. This style works well throughout the rest of the film but swaps the city for the jungle.
The flash forward scenes where Che is interviewed and later addresses the United Nations, help to give the story, and Che, more depth and background, whilst giving us insights into his personality and ideology. Along with the battles, these scenes also help to break up the slower parts of the film.
Cinematography in the film is good and occasionally great, with some stunning shots of the Cuban landscape. The black and white scenes are also well shot, without feeling out of place.
On another positive note, Benicio Del Toro does an excellent job portraying Che. He is understated and believable as the man who wanted to change people's lives, focused on doing what he thought was right.
Unfortunately though, I had trouble caring about or even remembering most of the other characters, as dialogue between them isn't particular memorable. Sometimes you almost feel like you're watching a documentary that's trying to teach rather than entertain and this can start to wear, especially when you're reading subtitles. Che may also be shown in a better light than some would like, although honestly I feel the film is fairly accurate in its portrayal of the man and the history.
I'd definitely recommend this film to anyone interested in Che or the events in Cuba. Even if at times things do get a little slow, it's still a rewarding and informative experience.
He was a revolutionary fighter, a doctor, a social philosopher and a
martyr who turned to armed warfare as a 'necessary' means of stamping
out the foreign complexities, poverty and injustice that had bled South
America for centuries. He was a Marxist, a writer, a guerrilla and a
diplomat who rose to prominence as a leader of Fidel Castro's radical
'26th of July Movement': a left wing political party that launched an
armed invasion of Cuba rapt on toppling U.S backed dictator Fulgencio
Batista. This historical revolt: the focal point of director Steven
Soderbergh's enduring, coarse and superbly crafted part one of two
biopic. A sometimes bitty, sometimes brilliant hand-held epic that
succeeds in its failure to fall into the consumer culture camp that's
exploited Ernesto 'Che' Guevara's image now for so long.
Steven Soderbergh refrains, then, from counteracting the magnitude of Che: Part One's dense political platform by ramping up the fireworks. This wont appeal to mainstream viewers. This is not a Cuban Braveheart. This is not some twisted Scarface prequel. There will be no post-movie pop-art. Che: Part One is an intelligent and vital take on the man behind the myth not a balls-to-the-wall action spectacle blaring with blood, bullets and CGI. It's a thorough and naturalistic treatise on iconic human drive and endeavour that infrequently shuttles between monochrome and Technicolor, between Che Guevara's 1964 delegation at the UN headquarters and time spent trudging through the Cuban jungle.
If your understanding of certain political ideals and movements are, at best, hazy- then it's best to steer clear of this one. You're likely are likely to find the first serving of Soderbergh's four-and-a-half-hour, two part political epic a little confusing. This ain't no Hollywood funded, slick and stylish, over-dramatic chronicle concerned with entertainment or income. This isn't 'Defiance' or 'Valkrye'. This is a well-researched, claustrophobic and paced political drama (shot in Spanish) where spurts of action, violence and humour are few and far between. Imagine Oliver Stone's 'Salvador' by the way of Terrance Mallick's 'The Thin Red Line': fragmented, anti-mainstream and very heavy-going.
The bravura Benicio Del Toro stars as Che and is quite excellent. He delivers a focused and unwavering performance worthy of a thousand accolades: his finest since '21 Grams'. The fact that Del Toro is fluent in Spanish also helps, as does a rallying and unknown supporting cast that work well as a low-key ensemble. It's all about Del Toro, though. His insurgent, intense and convincing Che is one marred by crippling bouts of asthma yet defined by a burning desire to educate and reform- to put his litigious beliefs into action and unite Latin America.
With Che: Part One, the diligent Steven Soderbergh has found his blend of realism and narrative, documentary and drama. As an avid Che fan and reader of his books and biographies, there is little doubt in my mind that this monumental work will stand as the first piece in the definitive two part screen portrait of one the twentieth century's most iconic, yet largely uncharted, political figures.
Final Verdict: While lesser films wallow in the limelight, Che: Part One stirs understated in the shadows seemingly content with the fact that it wont appeal to all, or many. Steven Soderbergh has crafted a very loyal and well-made biopic. One that demythologises, one that educates, one that excels and ensues Walter Salle's soul-searching Che preface: The Motorcycle Diaries.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Telling about the years from his fateful first encounter with the
Castro brothers in Mexico to the end of the revolution, The Argentine
helps show how a young doctor became a Comandante respected and loved
by a nation that was not even his. This was a man with ideals, one who
believed in the love of humanity, justice, and truth. He was a doctor
above all else, patching up the troops and making sure the people in
every village they passed through had the care and attention they
needed. He also was not afraid to lead the charge and stand at the
frontlines without fear of death. One must live as though they have
already died, then the fear will be gone and you can do what is
necessary for the cause. It is about the group and the country, not
about his survival. In his idealized communist beliefs he was fighting
for Cuba and the only outcomes allowed were victory or his own
Soderbergh's ambitions are evident right from the start. Although it mainly concerns the years between 1955-1962, he splices in events happening later on as Che visits the UN. Shot in black and white to help juxtapose against the sumptuous colors of our main action, these future scenes comment on what is happening during the war, cutting in to enhance the tale. There is a lot of structural jumping between the years, each change titled with a date and place to orient us as the viewers. The technique lends a more modern artistic scope to what would otherwise be a linear narrative and I believe helps tell the story more coherently. He has edited the film for the most efficient portrayal of the facts, a somewhat cause and effect relationship to better let us understand the situation. And it is a beautifully shot film, lending a fly on the wall type feel as we follow the revolutionaries or watch the UN debate. It is less artifice than an account of what happened based on the memoirs of Guevara himself. All the battles and all the victories from start to finish, his own uphill advancement through the ranks, from doctor to right-hand man, instructor of new recruits to leader of an army. However, if this film is to be believed, Che never wanted the power past being able to get the job done. Once Cuba was free he wanted to bring the revolution to all of Latin America, to share his experiences and political viewpoints. An intelligent man, he is shown fighting for his beliefs, no matter the cost. Unafraid to do what was needed meant he was unafraid to kill. Does a man like that deserve to be glorified in a film like this? That is in the eye of the beholder because to some he was a hero and a patriot, but like every conflict in history, where there is a good side there is a bad. To view a battle objectively is impossible because there will always be someone to defend it and someone else to protest.
The Argentine is one that will make you think about the strength of the mind and the power of ideas. A country came together and helped back a revolt with force to take over the government. With the charismatic and understated performance from Benicio Del Toro as Che, one can't help but see why. Always with a smile and a kind word, he ruled with respect and without compromising his beliefs. The fact that he leads intellectually makes the moments of outburst that much more effective. The role should garner a lot of praise as he embodies the man completely, shedding any preconceptions of the actor himself. Demotions and promotions don't apply during his tenure in the army, he does what Castro needs him to do; he follows his leader and expects the same from those under him. He portrays this man as one to be listened to and taken seriously. Castro himself holds council and values his ideas, and one might say that if Fidel was the face of the revolt, the man pulling the strings, Che was the muscle, the force allowing it all to happen.
In the end, though, while the visuals are gorgeous and the acting superb, it is the story that leaves a little something to be desired. Structurally interesting and easier to follow than one might think due to the jumps in time, we are not shown all the details. Often times we are thrown directly into the action without knowledge of why we are there or what is happening for what reason. Events occur and we are shown flashes, learning details after the fact or never at all. An example is when Che all of a sudden needs a cast for his arm. We don't know what happened, another character actually asks him, but when the answer is about to be said, we cut to another scene. Soderbergh seems to have crafted the tale he wanted to, only allowing us to see what he deems important, while leaving all other details by the wayside. He paints Guevara in a kind light, as a warrior with a purpose, never putting himself in front of the mission or country. In that regard the film is about the Argentine, but on the whole it is really about the war itself. Why is Batista bad? Why is Castro good? None of that matters. This isn't a history lesson showing the reasoning or rationale, you can get that in a book. Instead Soderbergh is just sharing the events themselvesas they happen, not why. You can't deny the scale or ambitions on display, however, the lack of background may make it hard to decipher, or even hard to really care.
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