Before I even get started properly I’m once again making a caveat with regards this film. Having seen it in it’s two part format I’m now awaiting its release on DVD to comment on it in its four-hour glory – yes, I may comment on it a third time, but how often do you get films like this come along (oh yes, I remember, Kill Bill)?
Part Two (or Guerrilla to give it its alternative title) is the better of the two parts (I’m reluctant now to view it as two films, there is a clear structure when both parts have been seen). Like the first part it makes demands on its audience that they at least know some of the back story involved – if anything this film is even more demanding because the first was written from diaries written with hindsight, the latter doesn’t have that luxury.
Again we are dropped into the middle of a situation without explanation nor reason, the first film at least had Castro to explain to us why everyone was there – here Che’s political motives (beyond giving the people power back) are even more mercurial. Oddly this has the effect of focussing attention more on the principal character and the performance contained therein. Which leads to the greatest strength of the films, and the reason to see them; to say that Benicio Del Toro delivers his best performance is an exercise in understatement – it’s the sort of performance that comes along every so often that is so subtle, but so magnetic that you cannot take your eyes off of it. Why the Academy has seen fit not to even recognise it with a nomination will be one of those mysteries that is discussed in film circles for a long time.
Likewise the second part showcases the other side of Soderberg’s CV – the first has a glossier sheen to it, more akin to his studio films (Ocean Eleven etc) whilst the second part is more direct, hand held (The Limey). Apparently the four hour “Showcase” version gets around this with an intermission (it also has a programme that allows viewers to read about the background to each conflict) – presumably this also allows the projectionist to deal with the change in aspect ratio.
Given this, it’s impossible to comment on one without commenting on the other, both are superb pieces of filmmaking, equally well constructed, but each half will have those who favour it. The second was stronger for me due to its more documentary quality, but shaky-cam is beginning to have its detractors and this is not a film that will win people over to its strengths. However, the first is better scripted – the inter-cutting of the UN sequence creates a framework for the goals of the conflict outside of the heat of battle. Both are fine films, but pretty much follow the dictionary definition of “not for everyone”, but are still heartily recommended for anyone with more than a passing interest in late twentieth century history.