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Che: Part One

Che Part One

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

STEVEN Soderbergh’s Che Part One won’t be to everyone’s tastes. It’s fragmented, requires more than a passing prior knowledge of its subject’s life story and is only really half the story (Part Two follows in cinemas in February). But it’s also a captivating piece of cinema that boasts an outstanding central performance.

The film mostly chronicles Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s role in bringing down Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista government in 1959 through a clever mix of guerilla tactics and inspirational motivation.

But it intersperses Che’s jungle campaign with scenes involving his initial recruitment and early plotting with Fidel Castro, his expertise as a doctor and his time in America spent speaking to the United Nations and being interviewed by a sceptical press in 1964.

Soderbergh very much adopts his own guerilla approach that imbues the film with an independent style more reminiscent of the director’s earlier work (on Full Frontal and Traffic), eschewing the epic scale of many conventional Hollywood biopics.

As such, Che Part One has a raw, almost documentary-style feel – whether training its lens on Che’s jungle camps, his training techniques and his various speeches, or his no-nonsense deliberations to the UN.

He also employs split-narratives and colour and black and white sequences, that keep the viewer on their toes, without intruding on the overall flow of proceedings.

And he draws Part One to a close with a fascinating – and often quite tense – depiction of the taking of Santa Clara in 1959, which looks destined to rate among the great combat sequences.

En route, viewers may develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for Che – as both an inspirational revolutionary and a dangerous man to cross.

It is a performance of engrossing complexity by Benicio Del Toro that really keeps you glued and which has thrust him deservedly into awards contention: tough yet compassionate; determined yet patient, and charismatic as well as humble. Del Toro inhabits the man, as well as the myth.

Strong, too, are Catalina Sandino Moreno as an admiring female revolutionary, and Demian Bichir as Castro (who also pretty much nails the Cuban leader’s mannerisms and intensity).

As previously mentioned, Che Part One will require some patience from the viewer by virtue of the fact that it doesn’t play to convention. But rather than merely trotting out another episodic biopic, Soderbergh and Del Toro have crafted a fascinating character study that really does capture the essence of the man and his legend.

At this stage, we can only look forward to Part Two.

In English and Spanish, with subtitles

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 6mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 29, 2009