Steven Soderbergh's ambitious look at Ernesto "Che" Guevara has been happily truncated into two pictures, ala Kill Bill.
The first, subtitled "The Argentine", is much more provocative and propulsive than the second, the more laborious "Guerrilla". The narrative, in an unchronological structure, is driven to immerse one into the Cold War and an iconic individual becomes an emerging, very influential figure. It's more than an action picture with guerrilla warfare that has a chilling atmosphere to it.
Benicio del Toro turns in one of his finer leading portraits as "Che", a Mexico City doctor in the mid-1950s who helps siblings Fidel (Demian Bichir) and Raul (Rodrigo Santoro) Castro against United States-backed dictator Batista.
Before Guevara ascends into a general, he and his cohorts go through an austere plight, whether at sea or in the jungles. A rebel sect is skillfully assembled, and after many violent encounters they become victorious in January, 1959, assuming power.
Scenarist Peter Buchman keenly adapts Guevara's memoir "Reminisciences of the Cuban Revolutionary War" letting an asthmatic man and his milieu take hold. He intercuts Che's rise with his dealings with the UN and speaking to a reporter (Julia Ormond of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) in New York City in 1964. Under his nom de plume of Peter Andrews, Soderbergh sharp films much detail in widescreen contrasting with the much less crisp monochromatic recreation in the latter period.
Thus, much of The Argentine in its even-handed, less politically-minded approach has feeling for realizing a burning desire against overwhelming odds, not trying to make a case for the ideologies of the rebels. As Guevara, Del Toro is very focused and cogent in a philanthropic, civic-minded way, as when it comes to the literacy of his forces or for those outside his orbit to broaden their minds.
Soderbergh and his crew find a rich clarity in this deconstruction of a legend, though less profound and poignant than Walter Salles's The Motorcycle Diaries. If the accents from many of the actors from Central and South America don't seem to match their characters (like talented younger actors like Catalina Sandino Moreno and Victor Rasuk) , then the dialogue and interplay carries a spicy allure to it. Whether during the fight against the UN for Cuba or one with many guns with his soldiers in a city out of an old Western, "Che" is a realist, heeding to the complexities and cruelness of world, well before globalization, filled with paranoia.
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