Che: Part One – The Argentine
My God, to think how Che Guevara must be turning in his shallow grave, knowing the hipster-icon status he’s achieved with the tragically hip ‘emo’ crowd. At least Steven Soderbergh pays him proper tribute in his latest, and massive docudrama Che. Che ‘is so enormous, it’s broken up into two movies, both running just over two hours long. The first is Che: Part One – The Argentine.
This first part follows Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara as goes from an Argentine doctor, to Cuban revolutionary in the mid-1950s. Guevara played a huge part in overthrowing the tyrannical Batista regime, as well as making way for a new dictator: Fidel Castro. Even though the film centers around Guevara, the film is almost more about Cuban geography and the art of guerrilla warfare (focusing on indoctrination, recruitment, training exercises, political posturing, etc., etc.). As a period piece, it’s terrific. The look and feel of the movie is just right. At least it feels just right to white, north westerner who’s never participated in jungle warfare.
Steven Soderbergh deserves special praise here as he continues to defy all definition or categorization. His range is one of the most versatile of anyone out there. No one can forget his indie beginnings with Sex, Lies and Videotapes, his attempt to improve (really Steven?) on Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and perhaps most infamously, his remakes of the Rat Pack Ocean movies. Che seems to be a completely new genre for Soderbergh, but it doesn’t show for a second. Any semi-conscious viewer won’t be able to avoid the realism. The film was adapted for the big screen from Guevara’s own memoirs by Peter Buchman (Jurassic Park III, Eragon). I wouldn’t call this a powerhouse performance by Benicio Del Toro (as Che), but his ability to complex layers to this polarized historical figure was impressive. His emotional range requires brutality, intelligence, mercy, and kindness.
The film is interspersed with flash forwards of Che’s visit to the UN (filmed in grainy black and white). It’s a jaring site, seeing a man so brutal calling it like it is in front of the world. It’s this promised reward that makes the film worth seeing: the journey of a man from your average Argentine, to inspirational leader to millions. If nothing else, it’s an interesting character study that feels more like a documentary, and Soderbergh deserves credit for thoroughly introducing us to this enigmatic man. The pacing is a little on the slow side, and sometimes the plot meanders a little, but Che: Part One is worth the effort.