*½/**** Image B- Sound B
starring Victor Huggo Martin, Gael Garcia Bernal, Patricia Velasquez, Cecilia Suarez
screenplay by Stephen Tolkin, based on the books Guerrilla Prince by Georgie Anne Geyer and Fidel Castro by Robert E. Quirk
directed by David Attwood
by Walter Chaw Fidel is a very long, frustrating, exculpatory biopic of Cuba's dictator that, in its near-fanatical dedication to even-handedness, provides a piece devoid of a moral compass. In certain instances, pacifism implies an endorsement of one side and director David Attwood is certainly guilty of not taking a stand on one of the most controversial, inflammatory, murderous, megalomaniacal, and charismatic figures in modern history. Beginning, intriguingly, in 1949 with a young Castro (Victor Huggo Martin) as a clean-shaven lawyer incensed by certain acts of vandalism perpetrated by the American Navy in Havana, the film promises to draw an interesting connection to Gandhi's legal background and, most fascinatingly, the starkly different ways these two revolutionary leaders conduct their rebellions (and to what eventual purposes).
Regrettably, Fidel's initial promise passes into an endless slog through desultory landscapes of blandly recreated rebellions and listlessly portrayed figures--both (the portrayal of events and characters) as timid as church mice. The most interesting aspect of the Showtime-produced mini-series becomes a sort of detached curiosity about how its portrayal of the Missile Crisis will compare to Roger Donaldson's Thirteen Days (answer: not well), and how long it will take before Martin gets decked out in the dictator's trademark facial hair.
The problems of the film begin with Martin, in fact, before continuing through Stephen Tolkin's lacklustre script and Attwood's lockstep direction. The Mexican actor, making his English-language debut, bears a passable resemblance to Castro but lacks any hint of the spark necessary to leaders of men and seducers of women. Free of that essential vibrancy, Fidel declares itself an academic construct high on detached re-enactments with dialogue meant more as continual exposition than the evocation of drama and real human emotions. A meeting mid-film with Che Guevara (Gael García Bernal) comes off as a history class skit written and performed by undergrads on a deadline.
To its credit, Fidel does touch on the reality that the best intentions sometimes lead to the worst ends. Fidel's revolt against Batista is unquestionably well-intentioned (if amateurishly planned--intimation of future bad thinking, perhaps), and while the reasons behind his climbing into bed with the Soviets is left the stuff of conjecture, well delineated is the source of Castro's hatred for the United States. Too much of Fidel's three-plus hours, however, are devoted to that flat, pseudo-journalistic style that might inspire a deeper study for some but is more likely to inspire in most aggravation for time lost and contempt for time wasted. As a starting point, it's not the absolute worst place to begin; as a docudrama, sufficed to say that it doesn't need to have my point of view, but it does need to have a point of view.
Presented by Artisan in a fullscreen 1.33:1 transfer, Fidel looks fine on DVD. There are no major flaws in the source and shadow detail is adequate, as ordinary as you'd probably expect from a TV mini-series. The Dolby 2.0 stereo track lacks much punch in the directional department with some very minor atmospheric noise during its first rally scene and a few moments in its second half; dialogue is well modulated in the centre channel. Brief production notes and a clip of JFK's speech on the Cuban Missile Crisis round out the sparse disc. Originally published: June 5, 2002.
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