After ending with Che Guevera's triumphant march into Havana intercut with director Steven Soderbergh's ("Erin Brockovich," "Ocean's Thirteen") only hint of the revolutionary's hand in the political executions that were to follow via Che's speech to the UN, he skips six years and a failed attempt at revolution in the Congo to begin Che's second, and last, failed attempt at socialist revolution in "Che: Part Two - Guerilla."
Like part one, Soderbergh begins with a map, this time of Bolivia, closer to the title of Part One's The Argentine, which took place in Cuba - got it? If the first film was more akin to Soderbergh's "Traffic" style, spiked with some "JFK" era Oliver Stone, the second film is completely linear, yet muted and almost dreamlike at times. Despite that, it is Part Two which gives the more unique perspective, an on-the-ground document of guerilla warfare with an idealist who has already succeeded once and failed (in the Congo) once. This is the film that Soderbergh initially wanted to make, but, as is evidenced by the final result, it is difficult for it to stand on its own. And so while Part Two needs Part One and not vice versa, it is Part Two that is the more cinematically daring and enveloping.
Part One both gave birth to Ernesto Guevara's "Che" (Benicio Del Toro, "Traffic," "Things We Lost in the Fire") and flashed his life as the Argentinean doctor (see Walter Salles's "The Motorcycle Diaries") become Cuban Revolutionary before our eyes. Part Two portrays the slow downfall of a man drifting towards his death, the ideals and mechanics of his rise failing in tougher environs where those he fought for did not support him and where, unbeknownst to him, the C.I.A. was waiting to take him down.
Che tells Cuban ministers he's off to check on their sugar cane crops then disappears. Not even his wife, Aleida (Catalina Sandino Moreno, "Maria Full of Grace"), knows he has gone until Fidel (Demián Bichir, "Perdita Durango") reads Che's letter in public. It is November of 1966 and Che leaves La Paz to begin to meet with his recruits, build camp and gather food in the forests. But the head of Bolivia's Communist Party, Mario Monje (Lou Diamond Phillips, "La Bamba," "Courage Under Fire"), refuses financial support for armed struggle, telling Che to go home and the oppressed Che is fighting for - the miners - are remote and unable to support the revolutionaries the way Cuba's oppressed farmers were. Che's medical background, always useful for wounded soldiers, is used in Bolivia as a form of barter, but the small group he leads here are not only struggling for human rights but to survive. Tania (Franka Potente, "The Bourne Identity"), the 'princess' revolutionary who Patty Hearst namechecked as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, represents the difficulties facing those following Che. (Watch for Potente's "Bourne Identity" costar, Matt Damon, in a small cameo negotiating with the Bolivian Liberation Army).
Del Toro just slips under the skin of Guevera in an unshowy but thoroughly convincing performance that won him the Best Actor trophy at this year's' Cannes Film Festival. The film is beautifully photographed by Soderbergh, whose quiet, unhurried approach here takes the time for reverie into shimmering treetops punctuated by the sound of cicadas, a Malick moment. It is, in fact, this day-to-day, you-are-there style of acting and filmmaking which, ironically, appears to be turning off many who are looking for more traditional peaks and valleys.
"Che: Part Two" is not a masterpiece, but it will reward the patient. Together with the mosaic-like "Part One," it is a unique, if not all-encompassing, biographical portrait of a man whose image has become pop culture and who represents opposing ideals to those of differing persuasions.
The second installation of Steven Soderbergh’s biography of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, “Che: Part Two Guerilla,” takes a different path of storytelling than “Part One.” Instead of the frequent flash back and forth in the first, he gives a linear telling to Che’s last years - from his triumphant speech at the United Nations in 1964 to his violent death at the hands of CIA-backed Bolivian anti-insurgency troops in 1967. The film lacks the stylish editing of Part One and is a more pedestrian biographic examination of Guevara.
Again, Benicio Del Toro commands as Che as he eschews the high offices of the Fidel Castro revolutionary government to foment rebellion in Africa and South America. Che is colder and more strident in his progressive views but soon realizes that what happened in Cuba was one of a kind. The suspicion and lack of support of the peoples he tries to liberate forces an increasing cynicism in the man that makes him question his calling.
Soderbergh’s guerilla-style filmmaking lends a grittiness to Part Two that puts you in the action with Che and his fighters battling government troops in the streets of a city and in the dense jungles of Bolivia. Che’s death is handled in a documentary-like manner that is the expected, and well-known, culmination of Che’s years of fighting oppression. I give it a B.
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