Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Che

One of my favorite lines in any movie is from The Rutles' All You Need is Cash. In this Beatle parody, Eric Idle plays the narrator. From the parking lot outside the site of the Fab Four's most famous concert, he refers to the first outdoor rock concert held at "Che Stadium (named after Cuban Guerrilla leader, Che Stadium)." Cracks me up every time.


Not so funny is Steven Soderbergh's 4 1/2 hour epic bio Che. No laughs , to be sure, but it makes for compelling viewing. Constructed as two separate movies, the first part is the better. The jumping off point is a Che visit to the UN. Filmed in glorious, retro-looking black and white, this segment flashes back to Che's first meeting with Fidel Castro in Mexico City in the early '50's, tracking their beginnings, their struggle and ultimate victory over Batista's tyrannical government.


Nothing is mentioned about Fidel's tyrannical leadership in Part 2. This story comes at you as a straight drama, with Che in Bolivia stirring up and supporting a native uprising against the military government. I thought that, like Part 1, it would start in Bolivia 1965 and flashback to the Castro regime. Uh-uh. It's kinda boring as a result, and I have to say I was disappointed at the gap in the story. It is filled with cinematic highlights. Like Butch Cassidy and Sundance, nothing goes right in Bolivia. In one shot, Che and his men see a single peasant they think is out for a walk. Slowly, more and more people appear and grow into a mob on the hillside looking for the rebels. Towards the end of his efforts, Che is nestled behind a rock, tending to an injury when we see above his head, a menacing group of Army soldiers approaching through the thick cover. We see it - Che doesn't.




As David Bowie sings in "Panic in Detroit," Benicio Del Toro "looks a lot like Che Guevara." BDT is wonderful in the role, though perhaps a bit too saintly. His rebuttal to the condemnations delivered by the ambassadors of other nations at the United Nations is a tour de force. the picture belongs to him and him alone.

Matt Damon makes a surprising cameo as a local Bolivian official. He's got a pretty believable Spanish accent. No traces of Boston southie here. Soderbergh, whose directorial prowess is omnipresent, uses his Ocean's star to great effect. So, where's Brad Pitt?

Che is well worth your time, though I recommend watching one disc per night. They work very well as individual movies, completely stand alone stories told in distinctly different ways.

As for Benicio Del Toro, I can't wait until his next movie. It's the story of another hairy revolutionary, The Wolfman.