I am sure that all of us have heard, read and in case you are a fellow movie blogger, in many cases, even wrote about Steven Soderbergh and his alleged retirement from film making after Side Effects(2013) earlier this year and a HBO movie, Behind the Candelabra(2013). I have seen few of his movies and I really like some of them like Traffic(2000) and Sex, Lies and Videotape(1989). Moreover I really appreciate the way he goes from genre to genre, never confining himself to any particular type of films. However I am also aware that there is a whole lot of his work that I haven’t seen yet. While reading all the retrospective or top 10 posts about him, two films that I had not seen then jumped out to me – Out of Sight(1998) and Che(2008).
Che is a biopic of Earnesto ‘Che’ Guevara, an Argentine by birth who went on to become one of the closest people to Fidel Castro and one of his generals in his fight that eventually deposed the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. It consists of two feature-length films in which Part One talks exclusively about the Cuban revolution starting with the very first time he meets Fidel Castro in Mexico till the climactic battle of the two forces in Santa Clara where two armies go against each other for one last time. Impressed by Castro’s ideology and vision, Guevara joins Castro's 26th of July movement and travels to Cuba with him on a yacht. As a learned man himself with his own ideology and a medical student before joining the revolution, Che quickly finds his footing in the organization and makes himself useful wherever he is needed. Shortly, he begins his steady ascent to become one of the most important and trusted people around Fidel Castro. He also plays a pivotal role in the final battle against Batists's forces in Santa Clara and after that in various roles in Fidel Castro's government
Guevara was an expert in Guerrilla warfare on which he went on to write many books. Various battles that we see throughout this film are a great example of this Guerrilla style, giving whole film some more authenticity. Narration of the film works on two fronts, first the revolution and second, his interview with Lisa Howard in 1964 while he was in US, for addressing the UN.. Their conversations give us a chance to know him better, to give his character more depth. We learn about his personality, his ideology and his work while he held many important positions in Castro’s government. While answering one of her questions, Guevara talks about his idea of a real or ideal revolutionary. He says an ideal revolutionary is the one that never stops, that always keeps on working. He probably thought of himself as one. So after Cuba settled under Castro’s leadership, he thought it was his duty to go and help others who might need it. Part Two concentrates on his efforts to bring about similar revolution in Bolivia.
In 1965, Guevara lands in Bolivia under a false name to help the Bolivian revolutionaries to take over the government. Right from the start, he faces opposition not only from the government but also from his own organization as they don’t want to take the arms and he feels it necessary for any coup to be followed by an armed insurgence if you want to stay in control. Slowly he starts to lose all his resources that made them successful in Cuba and government, once again with CIA help, tightens their grip around him. In comparison to first, Part Two is rather slow, grim and maybe even uneventful. But it also had something that kind of validated the existence of both these films for me.
After watching Part One, most important question I had in my mind was what’s so great about Che Guevara that he warrants a 4+ hour biopic? All I knew about him then was what we see in the film. Of course, there is no rule that decides whether a person is worthy of making a biopic or not. But still, there must be something about him that must have caught Soderbergh’s attention, something that made him important enough to be made a biopic of. In part one; he is one of the most trusted people of Castro, one of the top generals that fought with him from start and even the person who gives him that all important final victory. But when he went to Bolivia, in a spirit of a true revolutionary by his own definition, that act certified him ‘biopic worthy’ to me. Unfortunately, all his efforts elsewhere did not produce the desired efforts anywhere after Cuba but the fact that he left everything behind just to lend his expertise, reflected him in another light to me. Now I wanted to know as much as I can about this guy.
As I said earlier, Out of Sight and Che were two movies from Soderbergh’s line of work that caught my attention and both for different reasons. Out of Sight is a movie that almost everyone I know has praised. People seem to love this movie. On the other hand, Che had a curiously polarizing reaction. People either love it or hate it but what attracted me more towards it was the political background of this movie. After having seen it, I can understand why people might not like this film. It is a long, in many cases slow and over analytical film, especially second one, and if you are not interested in the political side of it, it might bore you. However I went over some of the Netflix reviews for the film and a lot of people seem to think this is an undeserving biopic because Guevara was a communist. I don’t agree with this reasoning, even resent it but I do understand where it comes from. As I tried to learn more and more about this guy, I observed that it is not just film that it’s not just the film that divides people but the man himself. He seems to be as respected, loved as he is hated. Given the kind of life he led, I wouldn’t expect any other outcome.
The only problem I had with the film was the lack of real relatable character other than Guevara. There are hundreds of characters that come and go during the span of two movies but except for Che, none of them left any kind of mark on me. Not even his wife who, before getting married, fights alongside him as his guide in Cuban revolution or even Fidel Castro, played by Damien Bichir, who probably had the second most screen time but has just a fleeting presence. Che, however, was brought brilliantly to life by Benicio Del Toro. It was an absolute delight watching him in that role. From meeting Castro till the end in Bolivia, Guevara goes through a lot during the course of the two movies and majority of credit for making him believable or mildly interesting even in the dullest parts of story goes to his constrained but powerful performance. Apparently Soderbergh spent a lot of time researching before he took this project on and it pays off handsomely as the authenticity of the film can be seen right from the word go. Perfect locations, settings and decision of shooting in Spanish go a long way to help as well. Second part does suffer from pacing issues and could also have benefited from some trimming. However for anyone with any interest in the politics, ideology behind it, this should serve as a great reference.
Rating(out of 5) for both Part I and II: