Che: Part One (The Argentine) Reviews
There is precious little in these movies to fill out our understanding of what it was that made Che a rebel, a leader of men.
In releasing this reverent, meticulous, fascinating but flaccid history in two lengthy parts, Soderbergh committed perhaps the greatest sin of all. He made Che boring.
Che: Part One ( The Argentine), originally 2hr 11 mins long film is eloquently shot and Soderbergh directs efficiently utilizing it's non-linear narrative to the maximum and with a commanding performance from Del Toro that sticks in mind. However, for most of its running time, it keeps the audience in the dark because only those who know the history can properly understand this piece of art.
The most important rule of a biographical film is the figure; is the person that is being explored interesting or is his story unique and fascinating enough to be translated to a cinematic form. It is all about how the writer shapes this character and how a director executes the story and the ideas behind it. Ernesto Guevara, better known as Che, has made a reputation for himself with what he has achieved and his legend has grown to the point where it actually plays a large part in our pop-culture. I am an individual who is ignorant of his achievements and only know of through the perspective of contemporary popular culture; his face in many people's T-Shirts, the inspired use of berets, his name connected to almost everything Cuban related. This was a man who has found a place in my perspective of the world without actually knowing anything substantial about him; kind of like how everyone would know The Beatles, Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe and their place in the modern world, without actually understanding the work that they have created. Films have been a useful medium to me in learning about the journeys of these important figures and the impact that they have had to the world; Steven Soderbergh's Che would have been the best opportunity to build this understanding but its execution left me feeling dry in some places.
Biographical films are useful to those who seek to build understanding of an individual that we do not quite know or at least flesh out an aspect of them that was hidden which could shape a different perspective towards them, mostly through a humanistic approach. I came into this hoping to understand the life of this particular person; his personality, his ambitions, his goals, and his impact. Peter Buchman, the film's screenwriter, has given us something that seems objective and accurate, but sadly he does not make it easy for the audience to follow. The film's first 20 minutes keeps the film distant from the titular character, establishing the goals of Fidel Castro's vision, which is to bring down the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Once the film starts to concentrate on Che and his contribution to the revolution, it would be normal for a film to provide some sort of exposition of the character; exposing the internal drives that make him who he is, exploring his psychological and emotional tendencies, and establish elements for future character development. But the film does not do this very well, as for the bulk of the film, I was left distant with the character, viewing him only mesmerized by his actions rather than what is found underneath. The film eventually leads to an explosive third act that is gratifying and shows aspects of the character that were only lightly carried in the previous two acts, eventually ending on a high note that actually left me excited for the second part of the film.
The film's length may only be 134 minutes but Soderbergh paces his story with such patience, that sometimes I felt a bit tired of what was shown to me on screen. If the film had more for me to chew on, I would have been more engaged, not noticing the running time. Once the film does start to become more kinetic and tense, the third act, sitting through and appreciating it becomes much easier.
The performances in this film were strong, particularly Benicio Del Toro. Though it is obvious that he brings a committed and immersive performance, it is hard to completely appreciate if the film does not allow the character to feel accessible throughout. When I watch Benicio take on the role, it is clear he has done his research and provided an immense amount of detail in his portrayal but as I have said, the film does not make it easy for the audience to understand that, leaving the viewers only appreciating to a certain extent. The film does take a while for it to become the solo-act that the film sets itself out to be, as the first parts of the film is wide in its focus, with only the latter aspects of the film that become narrowly focused; also there is very few moments in the film that would try to bait for intense recognition, there are almost no scenes that involve screaming matches or tearful and broken moments, Del Toro lets the character feel natural and through this approach it still manages to create such a commanding presence on screen.
Che: Part One is not perfect in its storytelling, to easily appreciate the lengths that this goes through, a bit of background reading would make it much easier to sit through this film with a smooth flow. I hope the negative aspects of the film would be corrected or not as apparent in its follow-up.