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IN SHORT: A simmering epic that never hits boil. Part I wins over Part II. [Rated R for some violence. Part 1: The Argentine 131m, Part 2: Guerilla 131m]
There shall come a time towards the end of your year when there shall be an avalanche of things serious and epic. Some bad. Some unending. Some, a bright shining star that will remind you that there is good to be found in the mountains of film dross that a reviewer sifts through all year long.
Steven Soderbergh's Che, at least and most thankfully, comes with a fifteen minute intermission in the middle of its four plus hour packaged bio of Fidel Castro's number two revolutionary. It begins with the first meeting of the exiled revolutionary (Castro) and the volunteer Argentine doctor (Guevara) whose political philosophies align and target the despicable military dictator of Castro's beloved Cuba; one General Batista. Eighty men set out from Mexico to try to cross the Cuban border unseen and raise rabble throughout the countryside. Years pass. The revolution is a success and those in charge now find themselves in the same positions they sought to destroy. Ah, viva la revolution!
Of course, if you were to ask my why Che was seduced by the Communist cause or how he determined that Castro was the proper ticket to revolution or anything else that would normally be worked into the background material of a good script, pay very close attention. Most of those answers, if they are truly there and not a figment of my imagination, are buried in bits and pieces of dialog discarded long before it becomes truly for the story to repeat them. Epics seem to have this problem as a rule. They state the objective, somewhere along the way lose focus, and need to restate. In the case of Soderbergh's Che, the objective is stated and obtained and, when Guevara decides the revolution has lost its fire, he heads off to start another one in Bolivia.
That's the way it;'s supposed to be done! So thanks to the creative team for sticking to the facts and to Benecio del Toro for his terrific characterization of Che, for without that, we would have had no reason to come back for the second two hour film. In Part Two, everything goes to pieces in Bolivia and by the time it is done, we walk out knowing more about a bit of history that has had absolutely no effect on our life whatsoever.
Those of the proper generations may well remember the fear of a Communist nation off the Florida coast in the late fifties and early sixties. Everyone else google "Bay of Pigs Invasion." Cranky is of the very last generation to do the "duck and cover" nonsense and can barely remember talk of invading Cuba (among the parental units in the next room where we, at 6, were not allowed). Che is about none of that. It focuses strictly on the man and the country, buries his lies in the background of scenes that will eventually follow them and keeps us wanting to get to the end to figure out what the point of sitting for four hours in the dark was.
Frankly, there isn't much of a point.
Che, the epic, is just too much about someone who was; even for a person of my generation who actually knew who he was, inconsequential to regular American life. Che is professionally made and very well acted and constructed. If it wasn't, our audience would have walked out at the intermission. None did. Of the two halves, the first offers much more in the way of character and action and piques your interest. The second part is mostly a Hunt and Kill story.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Che, he would have paid . . .
Rent. For those preferring the big screen sit, we recommend part 1 over part 2; The former works as a unit. The latter requires seeing the former. Anyway you choose, Che is a long sit.
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