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Benicio del Toro in Steven Soderbergh’s Che. looked up some Castro clips on YouTube and discovered how precisely Bichir has played him. Once Guevara signs on to Castro’s “little bit crazy” plan \(Guevara’s bemused Batista, the film jumps to Cuba’s Sierra Maestra mountains and the beginnings of the revolution, and from there to Guevara’s 1964 appearance at the U.N tx where he addressed the assembly in the name of the Cuban Revolution. In the Sierra Maestra section, we see Guevara make the transition from doctor to combatant and from combatant to Comandante. In the U.N. scenes we get our only blast of the man’s ideology in a speech denouncing imperialists, especially the U.S., after which he delivers a withering response to criticisms aimed at him by Latin American governments. Yet del Toro’s Che is not bombastic. He exposes the governments of Venezuela and elsewhere as U.S. lackeys with only a few well-chosen words. In his own mind, and from the film’s point of view, Guevara stands on the moral heights and launches precise thunderbolts at the stooges below. It risks understatement to note that Soderbergh and del Toro present an uncomplicated view of Guevara, which will no doubt infuriate some viewers. They might not go so far as Sartre, who famously declared Che “the most complete human being of our time,” but he is unambiguously positioned as a hero, if finally a quixotic one. If you don’t arrive at the theater loathing Guevara as the “Butcher of La Cabana” \(the prison where Che the Cuban functionary had probably find yourself applauding his honesty and strength of character. When Cuban refugees protest Guevara’s arrival at the U.N., the film shows them as an angry mob, and Guevara as a clear-eyed man of history. One thread ties the U.N. scenes and the guerrilla warfare scenes: Soderbergh’s coolly professional love of procedure. Just as he showed us exactly how to rob impregnable Vegas hotels in the Oceans blockbusters, here he demonstrates how to become a guerrilla and develop winning guerrilla strategies, and even how to address the U.N. General Assembly. Soderbergh seems more interested in the details of U.N. debate protocols \(10 minutes for the initial speech, 10 minutes for the responses of other members, 10 After jumping between storylines for most of its length, Part One enters an extended sequence during its last 45 minutes or so, when Soderbergh renders a blow-by-blow account of Guevara’s troops taking the Cuban city of Santa Clara in 1959the victory that caused Batista to flee the country. Guevara doesn’t take any time to celebrate. He reprimands soldiers for driving “commandeered” long-finned Chevys, telling his men they should walk to Havana before driving stolen cars. And there’s no high-fining when Che meets Castro. That’s largely because Guevara, more so than Castro, doesn’t see his work as done. Cuba is just a launching pad to global revolution. Del Toro plays Che with such understated strength and transparent integrity that even his overwhelming ambition seems downright noble. Part Two shows what happened, beginning in 1966, when Guevara, after failed attempts to foment revolution in the Congo and elsewhere, launched his truly quixotic \(as in, sortie against the Bolivian government. The cause looks hopeless almost from the start. Che has trouble recruiting soldiers. The religious peasantry is hostile to takeover by atheists. And guerrilla life in the wooded Bolivian highlands is just hard. Guevara and his handful of followers nearly starve. The contrasts with the Cuban campaign are striking. Cuba was full of rumswilling, cigar-smoking bonhomie. In Bolivia, Guevara doesn’t have so much as a coca leaf to chew on. The film conveys such hardships from a certain remove. Again Soderbergh is back to his how-to manual, only this time the lesson plan is “how-not-to.” Soderbergh has been criticized for leaving out the middle section of what should’ve been a triptych. That is, he ignores Guevara’s years as blood-stained bureaucrat in Havana. Can we honestly evaluate Guevara’s career without seeing him at his worst? If not, does that make Che a fundamentally dishonest film? Soderbergh has answered this question in interviews by saying he simply wasn’t interested in showing Guevara behind a desk. He only wanted to make a “procedural about guerrilla warfare.” Wondering if this is really a defensible goal, given the title character’s morally muddled middle history, takes me back to high school, when I argued about Bonnie and Clyde with my English teacher. She remembered the pair as thugs and couldn’t tolerate their being glamorized on film. My basic answer: But it’s a hell of a movie! FEBRUARY 6, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27