As much as I was agreeably surprised by Steven Soderbergh’s Che Part One, I was disappointed by Che Part Two. That both parts were ever meant to be released as one movie is frankly incredible. Part One is stylish, adventurous filmmaking that at least offers the illusion of providing the viewer with a portrait of Che Guevara. Part Two is bland filmmaking, and though it seems to go on nigh on to forever, tells precious little story. The time-shifts and faux-news footage that break up Part One are nowhere to be found here. Stranger yet, though both parts were shot in high-definition video, Part One was printed as an anamorphic wide-screen film, and Part Two was printed flat. Why? I have no idea.
The viewer expecting Part Two to pick up where Part One ended—presumably with Che’s (Benicio Del Toro) entry into Havana—may be disconcerted to find that the second film jumps straight (thanks to an explanatory title) to the much later attempt to foment a revolution in Bolivia. The film starts off pretty well, with an amusing sequence involving Che disguising himself to enter the country. Unfortunately, little that follows is blessed with this tone, and the film quickly turns into what can best be described as a lot of wandering around in the Bolivian jungle.
Without Part One, there would be almost no character development in the second half. About the only thing that expands on Che’s character from the first film is that he becomes ever more debilitated by his asthma and reliant on his medications (which he foolishly forgets to take with him at one point). Other than that, there’s nothing particularly new. The hope that we might get a glimpse into Che’s darker side here is quickly dashed when it becomes obvious that Part Two is going to be an exercise in Don Quixote-like futility.
This is, in fact, the central problem with the film: It’s too obvious too early that the attempt at starting a revolution in Bolivia is doomed to grotesque and horrible failure. There’s never a sense that any of this is going to go anywhere, so what we’re left with is marking time while waiting for the inevitable. And it’s pretty tough sledding getting there. Part One might have leaned too far in the direction of fuzzy hagiography, but Part Two offers little to replace that. A case could be made that the film is a cautionary tale about the impossibility of a revolution without the backing of the people. That’s useful knowledge—assuming you’re planning such an undertaking. Since it’s unlikely that any of us have such a goal, its usefulness is somewhat limited.
What then may we salvage from the film? Well, if you’ve seen Part One, you’ll probably want to see the conclusion regardless. Beyond that, there’s still Del Toro’s performance. While he has much less to work with this round, he continues to seem to actually embody the character—or at least the character he and Soderbergh envision. Once the inevitable downfall occurs and we find Che in the hands of his enemies, the film suddenly becomes interesting again. These scenes have the same kind of emotional punch that made Part One so interesting and affecting. The problem is that this comes very late in the film, after we’ve spent nearly two hours wandering around the countryside accomplishing nothing. It’s hardly a fitting legacy for the character or the first part of the overall film. Not rated, but includes violence and language.