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Viva la Revolucion! Viva Benicio!,
This review is from: Che - Part One and Part Two [DVD] (DVD)
Having seen the full film in a bum-numbing five and a half hour session at the cinema last year, and I have to say if you are going to see Che, it is best to see both parts back-to-back rather than catching them individually, as it rounds off the portrait of a man who is an icon to some, an image to others - or a revolutionary to some, a terrorist to others.
The first part is the better film, I have to say, because it shows the means of how Che became an icon in the eyes of the many, with the means and the methods of how he - and Castro - overthrew the Batista regime in Cuba, without overemphasising or over-sentimentalising any potential sloganeering that many would have expected. We see a small group land on Cuban soil, and slowly gain strength enough to topple a government, but what is more surprising is that they show Che not as the face on t-shirts and posters around the world, but as a man: he may be intelligent and have sound plans, yet he also shows weakness in his asthma and the occasional fractious relationship with Fidel Castro throughout the campaign.
As the first part builds, it is solely the charisma of Benicio Del Toro driving the film, and he delivers a true tour de force performance that keeps you watching not because of who he's playing, but because of how he's playing him. When he, and Steven Soderbergh, can divert attention from the subject matter and onto what drives them, that is the sign of a great actor, and a great director, both at the top of their game.
Of course, when it comes to the overthrow of Havana, that is where the film divulges from ideas and promises to action, and again rather than making it too "Hollywood" with epic gun battles to stirring string compositions as they all fight together, it presents it as it was: tooth and nail, with no soundtrack - almost documentary like. Indeed, with the film interspersed with Che addressing the UN, the first one does feel like a documentary.
Part Two, meanwhile, shows us how Che also became a martyr in his disastrous Bolivian campaign, and it does reflect the first film: where everything succeeded in Cuba, everything fails in Bolivia - nobody wants to join his revolution, and they face an organised military who are determined to defeat him, and pick off his group mercilessly. As the first film you went in expecting victory, the second part you expect his death.
True, a lot of issues are skirted in regards to his time in Cuba after the victory, and they make scant mention of his campaigns before Bolivia, so you aren't getting a full biopic of Che Guevara as such, but what you are getting is a window onto the man behind the legend, and you see more than a face on a t-shirt, but the reason his face became a symbol. Not for everyone, but it's a feat of filmmaking that deserves to be seen.