If only the script were on the same level. Part biopic and part cinematic history lesson, the film ties to capture almost the entirety of Simon Bolivar's life in under two hours. Instead of choosing a slice of the life of one of the most complex historical figures of the nineteenth century, as Spielberg's Lincoln did effectively, Arvelo foolishly tried to rush us through his entire career, from his time as a young landowner, to a dilettante in Paris, to an almost Moses-like figure liberating an entire continent. Such ambition is nearly impossible to pull off, and what we get is a Wikipedia-like biography on celluloid. We follow Bolivar around without ever understanding motives, emotional or political. The narrative devices are equally problematic. Forced, unnatural dialogue is mixed with shots of Bolivar penning letters while we hear unconvincing voice-overs in Spanish, English and French. As the movie progresses, the less time the director has in explaining the historic or personal issues, and mere minutes are spent in political battles that lasted years. During the last half hour, the film opts for slogans, name-calling and unashamed hero worship.
Edgar Ramirez, who was riveting in Assaya's Carlos, plays the title character and doesn't quite know what to do with the role. He has a screen presence, but he cannot do much with a film has little time for character development. Ramirez is most comfortable in the early scenes, as a sorrowful young widower, but the progression from aristocratic landowner to military commander and towering political leader is unconvincing and he becomes increasingly unlikable. The English banker Torkington (the great Danny Huston), is the only other memorable character, but later in the film is turned into a capitalist-cartoon villain that seems like something out of a propagandist's imagination.
Arvelo, the director, confessed in a Variety interview that "screenwriting is quite possibly the weakest element in Latin American filmmaking." How could I disagree? Still, the accomplishments of the film are undeniable. The film is a visual spectacle, best seen in a large screen, and at the very least left me wanting for someone else to try a real character study of Bolivar.