Projections - Movie Reviews
With Jim Sabatini

Che: Guerilla

Benicio del Toro, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Joaquim de Almeida,
Lou Diamond Phillips, Franka Potente, Benjamin Bratt and Matt Damon

Rated: R 
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: March 9, 2009 Released by: IFC Films

The second part of Steven Soderbergh's ambitiously artistic opus is subtitled "Guerilla" as it is structured to authenticate real-time naturalism from Ernesto Guevara's "The Bolivian Diary".

This Che, meant to be seen in tandem with The Argentine, unfolds without flashbacks in the last year of the perservering, proactive medicine, and militant man. It doesn't have a stand-alone swagger to it and isn't quite as gripping as the first volume though the mission of a freedom fighter is deeply felt.

It's 1965 and Che (Benicio del Toro) has briefly found quiet refuge with his wife (Catalina Sandino Moreno) in Cuba where he plans a new revolt to usurp the United States-supported dictator (Joaquim de Almeida) of Bolivia.

Soderbergh works from the screenplay assisted by Peter Buchman to subtly make the mundane setting a force of nature in a stream-of-consciousness manner. A documentary realism of the off-center action connects in a way akin to pictures like The Thin Red Line.

The ideologies insist on the importance of health care and education as Che begins to fortify and prepare his army in the jungle. Obstacles mount for him with suspicious peasants and commandos being brought in for his execution. The unease in the rebel camps amid all the double-crossing, outbursts, and skirmishes suggest little promise for his beliefs as he offers an escape from tyranny.

Del Toro does stalwart yeoman work for Soderbergh (who got a similar unforced, grounded performance from him in Traffic) as a man willing to go the limit against more challenges that appear to be all around him. Che's physical exhaustion extends to his very debilitating asthmatic condition, as it becomes clear that the counterpunches of the ruling governmental body will become more than overwhelming.

Guerilla has some recognizable star faces in Lou Diamond Phillips, Franka Potente, and Benjamin Bratt and Matt Damon in smaller roles. The measured pacing with simmering conflict may leave viewers impatient or willing to bow out for a recess, as it never aspires to showcase the kind of set pieces that appear in a larger budgeted affair.

Soderbergh and his crew provide the spare, if expressive canvas for del Toro and his fellow thespians to operate from, and they do often through their visages. Before a wrenching sense of hopeless emptiness finally takes over, a finely understated tug of war is done in a fair-minded way. Whether its propoganda or behind-close-doors politics against the training and medical aid this long, often harrowing haul defies one expectations and doesn't underestimate what it takes to keep moving forward.

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