Che: Part Two
The guerrilla revolutionary sets up shop in Bolivia -- 3 stars
Directed by Steven Soderbergh. January 2009, USA. Rated R: 131 min.
(Originally published in buzz magazine on 3/30/2009)
If Part One of Steven Soderberg’s biopic Che tells the story of Guevara’s rise to power and renown despite the odds, Part Two undercuts the man’s glory with the grim tale of how he finally met his end. Benicio Del Toro stars once again as the communist freedom fighter who would not quit even after defeating Batista’s forces—instead concealing his identity and forging a passport to Bolivia, along with others who helped him win in Cuba.
Though Part One ends with rebel forces on their way to Havana, this film skips over that conquest in favor of fast-forwarding to 1965 with the news that Guevara has disappeared from the political scene and the country. Fidel Castro gives a speech to deny any knowledge of Che’s whereabouts (though a bit later we see Castro planning the shipment of funds and supplies to Guevara) and reads from a letter Che wrote that illustrates his victory-or-death mindset. Following that sullen scene, we see Che disguised with a bald cap and wig, preparing to board a flight to the continent. He and his comrades’ jokes about how easy it was to enter Bolivia unnoticed are nearly the only comic relief moments of what becomes a tiring series of hardships leading to defeat. Unlike the Cuban expedition, the Bolivian group suffers from poor recruiting and inner conflicts related to nationality: the Bolivians resent guerillas from other countries bossing them around in their own homeland, while Che and the Cubans insist that the struggle for freedom in Latin America should be an international effort.
Even Mario Monje, a leader of the Bolivian Communist Party discourages their mission. Though he sympathizes with their cause, he knows the time is not right for revolution: the peasants are not ready to rise up and revolt. Gradually, the revolutionaries become emaciated, facing mountainside battle on empty stomachs. Morale plummets, and Guevara begins to look less like a stylishly shaggy radical and more like Hagrid.
Part Two lacks Part One’s breakneck plot progression, eclectic cinematography style and character development (with the exception, of course, of Mr. Guevara, whose inability to forfeit cements his immortality as an icon). It feels a bit overlong—like Soderbergh could have chopped the second part in half and distributed Che as one three-hour epic instead of two two-hour features. Yet, the tense fight sequences toward the end—including some outstanding first-person shots—make up for the mid-movie lull.