The True Story of Che

Anyone intrigued by the forthcoming Che, the lengthy biopic of Che Guevara by director Steven Soderbergh, might consider a homework assignment before hitting the theater.

The True Story of Che Guevara, out this week [Sept.23] on DVD, serves up a straightforward account of the man who launched a thousand T-shirts -- and turned Cuba into an economic wasteland with precious little freedom.

Soderbergh's film won't be released until later this year just as Oscar season heats up. But reviews from a cut screened at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year showed Soderbergh wasn't interested in exploring Guevara's dark side.

After all, it's hard to root for a revolutionary figure who feels little while killing anyone who disagrees with his worldview.

Chances are more people will hear about Che than this absorbing new documentary from A&E, even if the latter doesn't paint the full picture of Guevara's legacy.

A young, impressionable Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna, born of middle class roots, planned to become a doctor, not a revolutionary. His famous motorcycle jaunt across Argentina brought him face to face with suffering peasants whose lives were nothing like what he knew.

Those confrontations forged his ideology. He embraced the Marxist/Leninist model, and while he completed his doctor's degree he realized mere medicinal work wouldn't be enough to salve people's suffering.

He wanted to change the world, and specifically loosen what he saw as the grip the U.S. had across the globe. He met like-minded souls in Fidel and Raul Castro, and together they began plotting the overthrow of General Fulgencio Batista's government in Cuba.

The film efficiently recalls their initial effort to depose Batista, a military debacle which nearly shattered their band of rebels.

But Guevara was a fast learner, and his charisma and grasp of guerrilla tactics proved more than a match for Cuba's governmental forces. He ruled by sheer force of will, an unblinking personality, and, quite often, a healthy dose of fear. His disciples respected his iron will, and the way he charged into battles while Fidel Castro stayed behind.

Guevara used this fear to his advantage, and his small but passionate following often cared more about staying alive than following Guevara's life mission.