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Slick and beautiful to look at - but nothing of substance
on 20 June 2009
This vanity project of Andy Garcia obviously was borne out of the one thing that signally fails to come across on screen - passion. The story revolves around his character, a night club owner in 1958 Cuba. Through his eyes and through the relationships he has with both his family and the woman he loves, we see the events unfold of the revolution and its aftermath.
It's a potentially compelling story, and has been evoked with some stunning set design and memorably vivid recreation of pre-revolution Cuba, but ultimately this story of a family being torn apart by political and ideological differences just lacks momentum and, oddly - drama - to work. Garcia, who not only stars but co-wrote and directs, seems to want to be the new Godfather - its easy to spot the mannerisms and acting tics, but while he has the beginnings of the flab of a Brando, he lacks the intensity. There is an interesting subtext to the movie where we see him strive to remain an observer to events, as symbolised by his constantly picking up his Super 8 to capture events important to him - but ultimately he puts down the camera and the events involve him too deeply for him to remain an observer. Less interesting by far is the appearance of Bill Murray, who appears as The Comedian - a true observer, who comments wryly on proceedings while not being part of them. It's a device which alas does not add any depth to the narrative but merely drags it out in a way that takes one out of the story rather than illumining it.
Another problem with the movie is that for a film which purports to get under the skin of the revolution and its effects, it signally fails to show any reason for the discontent. We see a wealthy and happy family in a pristine Havana, and then a brother goes off to join the revolution - why he does is never really explored. The scenes of violence we do see rather symbolise what is wrong with the movie - we see grenades being thrown, gunshots, explosions - and when the smoke clears, the locations filled with marble and beautiful furnishings remain unscathed. In the same way the movie fails to scratch beyond the surface, and fails to niggle its way into your emotions.
One factor which might raise the movie by a star to watchable for you, is if you are a fan of Cuban music - authentic and atmospheric music permeates the movie, and the movie seems more like a labour of love for the music, rather than the country, at times.
Being of Cuban descent, Garcia clearly had the energy to craft something special - it's just a shame that his energy failed to weave its way into the resulting film. What we ultimately have is a movie of loud gunshots and Cuban music in beautiful locations, alternated with mumbled conversations of seemingly great portent, which ultimately lead to - very little of interest.