A doomy mirror-image to the triumphant first two hours of Steven Soderbergh’s epic, Che Part Two leaps forward 10 years - and, controversially, past Che’s brutal role in hundreds of executions - to find the doctor-turned-icon attempting another revolutionary smash-and-grab.
But the film flips its forerunner on its bereted head. Setting up a Cuban-funded guerrilla camp deep in the hostile Bolivian jungle, Guevara (Benicio del Toro) leads another small group of battle-hardened troops into combat.
This time, it’s disastrous. Locals reject them instead of joining them. An elite force of US-trained Bolivian special forces become predators instead of prey.
Che and his men begin to die. In fact, seemingly unfolding in agonised real-time, Part Two feels like one long death scene.
Again shot on the shoulder but now without the flashback tricksiness of Part One, Part Two swaps cinematic zeal for rough,
It rapidly becomes a kind of psychological nightmare, as Che’s world starts shrinking around him. Literally. Part One was shot in widescreen, Part Two tightens its frame to the more claustrophobic 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The jungle shoot-outs of before are replaced by sad silences and choked skirmishes for survival. Distant, composed and wheezing from asthma, del Toro remains impenetrably charismatic through it all.
Flickers of Che’s character - warmth, cruelty, intelligence, intolerance - are there, but del Toro and Soderbergh keep on dodging romance, hyperbole or even any kind of biography.
It’s an astonishingly bold move: a biopic that lets us live with its subject for hours while never attempting to burrow into his psyche.
Four hours and 22 minutes after Che began, do we really know anything about its subject? As Guevara finally reaches the end of his revolutionary road, Soderbergh shoots him in close-up for the first time.
And then - startlingly - in first-person. And suddenly, neither biography or politics somehow seem to matter at all in this strange, soulful oddity.