a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, March 23, 2009

A riveting movie about Che's rise to hero status

Director Steven Soderbergh delivers a thrilling war movie with “Che: Part One,” the story of Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s rise to hero status during the Cuban Revolution.

It has nail-biting shootouts in Colonial towns and larger cities, including one waged from the roof of a old Roman Catholic Church, as well as references to spaghetti westerns and cowboy actor John Wayne before Havana falls to Marxist guerrillas.

Along the way, Guevara, portrayed flawlessly by Benicio Del Toro, wins the hearts of peasant farmers by arming them with an education and guns before overthrowing Gen. Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship. Che takes part in every battle, sometimes on the front lines despite protests from Fidel Castro, who wants his great soldier-leader with severe asthma to survive the war. Meanwhile, Che tends to the poor and sick, includes war crime victims in the jungle trial of their attackers and even prevents his soldiers from looting before the more than two-hour movie ends along the road to Havana.

The war scenes are shot in color, while clips of Che’s famous 1964 appearance at the United Nations are shown in black and white. While speaking in New York, he sharply criticizes the United States for its treatment of blacks and the U.N. for ignoring apartheid in South Africa.

Some critics haven’t been kind to this movie that opened Friday at Pittsburgh’s Harris Theater and will conclude into next week with Part 2. Some complain that it ignores the hero’s mysterious early life and doesn’t give much attention to the politics that brought about the revolution.

There is always Google or regular books to learn more about what is missing from this epic. Or rent “The Motorcycle Diaries,” the 2004 movie about Che’s South American road trip that sheds light on how he developed his compassion for the less fortunate.

Soderbergh deliveres a classic, and southwestern Pennsylvania is lucky to have Pittsburgh Filmmakers, the nonprofit media center responsible for showing this movie. I can’t wait to see “Che: Part II.” If only Filmmakers had the money to replace those uncomfortable chairs in that theater.

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