Director: Steven Soderbergh
Staring: Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir
Runtime: 129 minutes
It was only a matter of time until the ubiquitous bearded revolutionary ironically adorned on t-shirts, mugs and other pointless paraphernalia was afforded a major Hollywood biopic. Stephen Soderbergh’s ambitious Che: Part One, far from being iconoclastic, bolsters and embodies the cult status of the Argentinean freedom fighter Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, in an elegant film that picks up where The Motorcycle Diaries left off.
Originally premiered in Cannes as a four hour tour-de-force of Che Guevara’s controversial life, part one, of the now bipartite biopic, opens with the meeting between Che (Benicio Del Toro) and Fidel Castro which ignites the rebel movement that seeks to overthrow the corrupt Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. From here the cleanly shaven Che, evolves into the rugged, ambitious and unrelenting rebel leader that will so indelibly carve him as a revolutionary.
The progression of the guerrilla movement is fragmented with flash-forward black and white scenes of Che addressing the United Nations in 1964 and his appearances in New York. Del Toro, apart from having an uncanny resemblance, presents a Che that is at once erudite and passionate. His charismatic confidence on the UN podium and dogmatic emphasis on the education of his people is intercut with an aggressive ruthlessness to those that seek to undermine the revolutionary movement.
Soderbergh’s ambitious project has managed to amalgamate all the successful elements that have propelled his directorial career; Part One is shot with the confident sexiness of Ocean’s Eleven whilst capturing the stifling, fast-paced grit of Traffic. Che:Part One manages to humanise the man behind the pop-art emblem, but the infallible portrait leaves something wanting: it does not delve into the complexity of his character.
As much as his legacy is historically debated, Soderbergh obviously doesn’t seek to tarnish or challenge it. It is a film replete with the style of a man that captivated generations, but it still feels that Che Guevera’s more unknown image needs to be fleshed out.