Monday, January 26, 2009


1. Che is clearly a Steven Soderbergh film. It has all his visual hallmarks: the rugged, yet incredibly artful hand-held camerawork. The use of multiple perspectives in the same sequence or shot, the contrasting color palette to represent different places, times or states of mind… In a way it is a kind of apotheosis of technique that started in a nascent way with sex, lies and videotape but really became manifest in Out of Sight, a movie that is criminally under-remembered.

2. Two shots in particular leapt out to me. One involves the derailing of a train and a wild dog. It had the immediacy and fluid movement of Lubezki’s work in Children of Men and is destined to become a classic textbook-worthy sequence. The second captures the moment of Che’s death in a personal, subjective manner that beautifully realizes such a personal subjective portrait of the man. In a quiet way, it was groundbreaking and spiritually profound.

3. Part 2 has an elegiac quality that gains pitch as the little disasters of the campaign accrue to their tragic consequences. The tension of watching everything go wrong is almost unbearable, considering the giant heroism Che and many of the Cubans continue to display in the face of losing odds. The final gunfight has an electric quality, a la Fuller’s The Big Red One, that seems to totally nail the surreal reality of guerrilla warfare. And the denouement, or final act, has a beatific poignancy that is transcendent. But the film doesn’t stand alone in the same way as, say, Godfather II.

4. The whole style of the project—which I offer to those who don’t “get” it—is evident during a stirring action sequence in the Cuban jungle that is scored not to triumphal Hollywood orchestral schmaltz but to period-appropriate 1950s-era Afro-Cuban jazz.

5. Most of the casting was impeccable. It was particularly nice to see Catalina Sandino Moreno given another nice, nuanced role. But Matt Damon’s cameo in Part 2 totally blew. At that moment as the events were spiraling downward, his brief presence took us completely out of the movie.

6. Che is myth-making of a high order. It is photo-journalism as hagiography and in its way, grandly reminiscent of those 60’s/70s biopics like Becket, A Man For All Seasons, and Mary, Queen of Scots that elevated their subjects through careful, humane storytelling and awesome acting into the realm of the sublime.

7. As we said in a previous post, there’s no good reason why Che isn’t among the finalists for Best Picture of the year. It is deserving on so many levels, it’s sick. Benicio del Toro’s performance is easily among the most captivating and layered of the year. In the craft categories—directing, editing, cinematography, music, etc—what work was significantly better? To me, the fact that pictures such as Che, The Dark Knight, and The Fall (adapted screenplay, costumes, cinematography, at the least…) were shut out of the Oscars, demonstrates the wrong-headed attitude that motion picture craft is not as important as social message. Doesn’t that hypocritical stance seem to undermine the whole industry? For whatever reason, the Academy of Motion Pictures has become the official arbiter of intellectual content rather than a recognizer of spectacular film achievement, which is sad.

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