Bolivia didn’t do Butch and Sundance any favors and it doesn’t do Che any either. Che: Part Two isn’t just a downer for Del Toro’s franchising revolutionary (he’s bringing the revolution to Bolivia, whether they want it or not), but it’s an entirely depressing film too. There’s probably not a positive way to tell this story–Che goes to Bolivia and gets killed–but Soderbergh spends the film’s running time (it’s a breezy two hours ten, moves beautifully, probably because the scenes usually are identified with their respective time in relation to the start of the picture) whacking the viewer over the head with bleakness.
The film opens with the kind of text crawl George Lucas would lust for if he cared about doing a good text crawl, then there’s a beautiful televised Castro address on Che’s situation (Soderbergh films the Castro of the first part, Demián Bichir, discreetly, like they didn’t get him back for Part Two). It’s a simple shot of a television playing the address. It’s just great, really implying Soderbergh’s going to be a lot more visually inventive in Che: Part Two than he was in the first part. Fast forward… he isn’t. Che: Part Two is an entirely different film from the first one (not releasing them with their less interlaced titles would have been a fine move… but Part Two is different enough Del Toro didn’t even, necessarily, have to come back for it).
There’s some beautiful shots as Del Toro arrives, in a wonderful disguise, in Bolivia and finds his way out into the wilderness. But the Bolivian countryside is not a good looking place. Soderbergh got Peter Andrews to shoot it grey. The jungles appear devoid of life. The farmers Del Toro and his comrades encounter seem beyond poverty… nothing could grow in Che‘s Bolivia. Not even a revolution.
Che: Part Two‘s a constant downer, as it’s a film about failure. Che goes to Bolivia to inspire a revolution but he can’t. Revolutions, it would seem, can’t be exported. The film’s barely about Che. After opening in a manner to suggest a deeply introspective examination, Soderbergh immediately pulls back. Instead of following Del Toro around, Part Two splits its attention between the government response to Che (they call the United States, who are all too happy to supply military advisors) and the various members of Che’s small group. Franka Potente–identifiable, presumably, because she’s the only woman in the cast, not because she’s a recognizable film personality–gets one group, then some other guys get emphasis. Matt Damon shows up at one point, proving he’s definitely not Johnny Depp. It’s a distracting cameo.
When the film finally does return to Del Toro, it’s a little late. Del Toro doesn’t have much time and he does great work, but it’s not enough. Soderbergh, for the majority of Che: Part Two (or so it would seem, it moves so fast, it’s impossible to properly gauge the time without clocking it), creates this amazing war film. It’s this cat and mouse war movie, with Del Toro and his guerillas hunted by the numerically superior Bolivian army. Soderbergh creates all this sympathy for the supporting cast, just because they’re so terribly outnumbered.
Che: Part Two is a tad more political than the first installment. The Bolivian president–a fine, if underused, Joaquim de Almeida–is not a good guy. The Bolivian army is not good (and not just because they went after Butch and Sundance). Che: Part Two, at its best moments, is about someone so moved with his dream, he can’t see when the kindling’s failing to catch. The film’s a complete downer.
Lou Diamond Phillips is good in a small part. Alberto Iglesias’s music is fantastic.
It just doesn’t connect.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh; screenplay by Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen, based on a diary by Ernesto Guevara; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Pablo Zumárraga; music by Alberto Iglesias; production designers, Antxón Gómez and Philip Messina; produced by Laura Bickford and Benicio Del Toro; released by IFC Films.
Starring Benicio Del Toro (Ernesto Che Guevara), Carlos Bardem (Moisés Guevara), Demián Bichir (Fidel Castro), Joaquim de Almeida (President René Barrientos), Pablo Durán (Pacho), Eduard Fernández (Ciro Algarañaz), Marc-André Grondin (Régis Debray), Óscar Jaenada (Darío), Kahlil Mendez (Urbano), Cristian Mercado (Inti), Jordi Mollà (Captain Mario Vargas), Gastón Pauls (Ciros Bustos), Antonio Peredo (Coco), Jorge Perugorría (Joaquin), Lou Diamond Phillips (Mario Monje), Franka Potente (Tania), Othello Rensoli (Pombo), Armando Riesco (Benigno), Néstor Rodulfo (Miguel), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Aleida March), Norman Santiago (Tuma), Rodrigo Santoro (Raul Castro), Mark Umbers (George Roth) and Yul Vazquez (Alejandro Ramírez).