The film (or films, depending on how you choose to look at it), is based on Guevara’s personal diaries and unfolds in two broad chapters. The first, arguably more dynamic, part could be subtitled How I Won the Revolution. It chronicles Guevara’s all-star Socialist team-up with Fidel Castro to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the late ’50s. Soderbergh employs a number of film looks and shooting styles to bounce around in time. Most of the film is split between Guevara and Castro’s successful rebellion and a reflective mid-’60s interview Guevara gave to a New York journalist. The ‘60s-set scenes are lensed in a grainy black-and-white, while the ’50s-set scenes are done in gritty, color-saturated video. (Soderbergh shot the entire film on the trendy new Red One HD digital camera.)
Part Two of Che could have been subtitled My (Mis)Adventures in South America. Having successfully cofounded Communist Cuba, Guevara lit out for South America where, in the late ’60s, he attempted to replicate his revolutionary success in Bolivia. Things didn’t work out quite so well there. Dumping the time-shifting narrative and conspicuous cinematography of his film’s first half, Soderbergh opts for a simple, chronological accounting of Guevara’s quixotic, yearlong running battle in the jungles of Bolivia. Again ignoring the interpersonal and ideological in favor of the rather mundane mechanics of revolution, Che: Part Two creeps at an even pettier pace—detailing the daily hunt for food, the steady attrition of untrained soldiers, and the constant need for new guns and ammo. (Blink and you’ll miss a Matt Damon cameo, though.) Soderbergh and his script (penned by Peter Buchman, writer of ... um, Eragon, apparently) never really explore why Guevara failed so badly in Bolivia. Was it a lack of national will? A stronger central government? The meddling intervention of American forces? No se.
There’s a subtle yin and yang at play with Che: Parts One and Two. Whereas Part One (sometimes referred to as The Argentine) is all triumph, Part Two (sometimes referred to as The Guerilla) is all tragedy. It’s a downer of a note to end on, really. Still, the film’s deromanticized portrait of la vida revolución is entirely fitting, given the subject at hand. As the weight of four-and-a-half hours bears down on viewers, Che makes a serviceable, somewhat resonant case for Guevara as countercultural martyr. Then again, his own life (and subsequent pop cultural hagiography) have accomplished largely the same task.
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