Che Guevara. No, it's not Steven Soderbergh's two-part Che. Silly you, I reviewed that HERE and HERE two years ago. It's time for a flick that's been critically panned for years, and don't we all love that?!? Here's 1969's Che!
It's 1956 and a young Che Guevara (Omar Sharif) lands in Cuba with a small revolutionary force of around 80 men commanded by Fidel Castro (Jack Palance). Having studied to be a physician, Che is brought along to be a medic, to treat the wounded but quickly becomes much, much more. As the revolution picks up momentum and followers all across Cuba, Che becomes an essential figure in the fighting, even becoming Castro's right-hand man, a key strategist and tactician in the fighting. It all leads to an overthrow of the government as Fidel, Che and their followers take the head of the coup, installing their own socialist government in 1959. It's just the start though as Cuba becomes a thorn in the side of the United States and worldwide. The revolution has changed though, and Che begins to feel uncomfortable. Maybe he can be of more use elsewhere where the fighting still rages...
Judging by reviews, IMDB ratings, word of mouth, all of the above, this movie from director Richard Fleischer is considered an all-around dud. As a jumping off point, I don't know what it says about me that I didn't think it was that bad. Rather, I was entertained throughout so go figure. Whether you love it or hate it, it's certainly an interesting film. It was made just two years after Che's death in 1967 as the world was tearing itself apart with one bloody conflict after another. My biggest question is 'What was the rush?' in getting a Che Guevara movie into theaters. The script certainly has some issues, packing a ton of stuff (about 10 years) into a 96-minute movie. It has far too many preachy scenes where Sharif's Che expresses his beliefs to anyone and everyone who will listen, and many who couldn't care less. Is it a good movie? No, but it's a fascinating flick in a guilty pleasure sort of way.
Talk about a daunting task. Mr. Sharif, would you be interested in playing infamous revolutionary Che Guevara? Working with a flawed script that tries to accomplish too much in its relatively short running time, Sharif makes the most of it. The screenplay certainly seems based off Guevara's diary and sticks relatively close to the facts of the revolutionary's life. The moments when he's preaching -- repeatedly -- his revolutionary beliefs, his hatred of imperialism (especially America) get to be tedious, but it is in the other, quieter moments where Sharif does an admirable job. We start to see Guevara as a man obsessed with revolution, with chaos, with taking down the system. These beliefs ultimately prove to be his undoing as Che becomes blinded with his goals rather than seeing that his plans simply can't work.
Now the rest of the cast, one actor in particular, has taken some abuse for his role. That man? Steely-eyed, gravelly voiced Jack Palance as Fidel Castro. Wearing a prosthetic nose, sporting big, wire-rimmed glasses and always chomping on a cigar, Palance seems to be playing a stereotype, a cliche of Castro rather than a flesh and blood individual. Fascinating, but not in a good way. The unfortunate part of the cast is that it features a long list of recognizable character actors who popped up in countless 1960s/1970s flicks. Oh, the unfortunate part? They're basically background performers. Some get a line here and there, but for the most part, they walk with Che or are visible in action scenes and dialogue exchanges.
Too bad. Among Che's followers we see Cesare Danova, Robert Loggia, Woody Strode, Perry Lopez, Rudy Diaz, Tom Troupe, Barbara Luna, Linda Marsh and Sid Haig. Other key parts go to Frank Silvera, Albert Paulsen, Rodolfo Acosta, Abraham Sofaer, and Paul Picerni. Just wish they could have been better utilized.
The one thing I can give credit for to this film over the Soderbergh version is that 1969 Che! takes a stance on the revolutionary icon. He's one flawed individual for good and bad. We see what his actions cause in terms of consequence on himself and those around him. In a somewhat odd storytelling device, we see some of the cast directly addressing the camera like a documentary, addressing the developments in Che's life but also in Cuba and Bolivia. Things obviously get a tad dark in the last half hour as Che's efforts in Bolivia never develop as planned. So you know what? I liked this movie. It's not necessarily good, but it's always entertaining (sometimes in a bad way). Still, it's worth a look.
Che! (1969): ***/****