Biopics are a tricky business. If someone is interesting enough to have a movie made about their life, they’re probably too interesting to do that life justice in a couple of hours. Something like Walk the Line covers decades, but it still focused mainly on Johnny Cash’s relationship with June Carter, so it never felt like it was rushing through things. On the other hand, there was Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar, where he tried to cover so much, it never really gave enough attention to anything. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for a Steve Job biopic has apparently gone in the complete opposite direction, having only three scenes in the entire movie covering three very specific events in Jobs’ life. Then you have Steven Soderbergh’s Che. Two movies, totalling around four hours.
Che: Part 1 – The Argentine opens in 1956 Mexico. In an unassuming apartment Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (Bencio Del Toro) meets with a group of Cuban dissidents, including Fidel Castro (Demian Bichir). They soon form a revolutionary army and begin their attempts to overthrow dictator, Fulgencio Batista.
Cutting back and forth between a visit Che made to the United Nations in New York, and the story of the Cuban revolution, The Argentine follows Che and Castro as they go from leading a handful of under equipped soldiers, to a well trained army, big enough to fight their war on several fronts.
More than just the physical resemblance, Del Toro seems like he is the only person who could have played the title role. I have no idea how accurate his portrayal is, if it’s anything like the real dude, but Del Toro really delivers on the charisma that a man like Che Guevara would have no doubt had. When Del Toro is leading his troops into almost certain death, I totally believed they’d follow. When he’s taking down the entire UN with an accusation filled speech, it’s totally believable that even the people who hated him, wouldn’t have been able to help respecting him at the same time.
The real Che Guevara is pretty polarising. Was he a hero who fought for the greater good of Cuba? Was he a terrorist and ruthless killer? The Argentine makes an argument for both. Castro and Guevara are fighting for a greater good, but there are times when the movie makes you wonder if the ends justified their means.
As they defeated Batista’s government and took control of Cuba, I wondered how Soderbergh was going to get an entire second movie out this character and his story. I don’t know much about Guevara, so I had assumed the Cuban revolution was where his story ended. But there’s a great line toward the end, after Batista has been defeated. One of Che’s soldiers talks about how easy life will be now that they have won. Che replies, “We have only won the war. The revolution has just begun”. If I wasn’t already pumped to see Che: Part 2 – Guerrilla, that line would have definitely done the job.