Che (Part One) - (15, 126 mins)
Benicio Del Toro, Julia Ormond, Pablo Guevara, Demian Bichir, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Franka Potente
The first two hours of Steven Soderbergh’s ambitious history lesson focus on the efforts of Fidel Castro (Bichir) and his guerrilla army to overthrow Fulgencio Batista’s government through a bloody and sustained campaign of violence.
Ernesto Guevara (Del Toro) leads the charge from the front lines, winning the respect and admiration of his compatriots with tactical guile and determination, culminating in a visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 1959 to respond to criticism from the international community.
Che (Part Two), which deals with the doomed insurgency in Bolivia, Guevara’s relationships with Alieda March (Sandino Moreno) and Tania (Potente), and his ultimate fate at the hands of the Bolivian military, is released next month.
Opens at the Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast, from tonight. Che: Part Two opens at the QFT on February 20. Tickets from www.queensfilmtheatre.com
'Part One feels plodding'
Reviewed by Anthony Quinn
The first part of Steven Soderbergh's two-part biopic is necessarily an inconclusive experience, a means of laying the foundations on which the legend of Ernesto "Che" Guevara would be built. In fact, this film plays not so much as a portrait of the man as a history of the Cuban Revolution, beginning in a Mexico City apartment with the momentous encounter between Fidel Castro and Guevara (Benicio Del Toro), an Argentine doctor with idealism in his blood. The two men, united in their goal to overthrow the corrupt (and US-backed) dictatorship of Batista, lead a guerrilla mission into Cuba in November 1956, and the struggle for the island's soul begins.
Del Toro, shrewd and saturnine, plays Che in a surprisingly low key, an asthmatic who knows how to conduct an insurgency yet shows only brief glimmers of the charisma for which he was to become famous. Soderbergh, working from a script by Peter Buchman, cuts between the jungle fighting in Cuba and Che's appearance in New York for a UN conference in 1964, by which time he is feted as one of the revolution's architects. This latter section is filmed in black-and-white, a possible signpost to the second part that will sort out the man from the myth. As it stands, the docudrama of Part One feels slightly plodding; its one-thing-after-another format may be true to the way things happened, but it lends the film no satisfactory shape or intricacy.
For all the drama that surrounded them, Soderbergh never gets under the skin of either Che Guevara or Fidel Castro. We can only hope that the psychological dimensions will be illuminated in the next part.