Running Time: 99 minutes
UK Certificate: PG
Country: Spain, United States
One of the main criticisms you often hear aimed at chat-show hosts is that theyre too nice to their guests. They tiptoe around the more sensitive issues and rarely seem to ask the questions that their viewers would really like to hear answered. The stock response to such accusations, of course, is that these shows would never be able to attract interviewees of any decent standing if they were to handle things any differently. Its a Catch-22 situation, and one that undoubtedly has a firm grip on Oliver Stones Comandante.
The films sees Stone meet up and shoot the breeze with Fidel Castro, the beard-faced revolutionary whose leadership of Cuba stretches back for over 40 years. Over the course of a near puke-inducingly matey 30-hour marathon, the pair plus Castros faithful interpreter Juanita Vera chatted and chortled their way around the sights of Havana, the result of which is this 100-minute documentary.
Its some pretty entertaining footage in places, particularly if you like the sound of ol Fidders telling us that one of the things hes proudest of is the amount of time hes saved in his life by not shaving; or talking about the drunken night out he once had with Yeltsin and Gorbachev (is anyone else picturing the three of them stumbling home in the small hours with traffic cones on their heads?); or giving the impression that he doesnt take particularly kindly to hearing remarks made about his fondness for wearing green. But, if youre after anything insightful or controversial, you can forget it: this entire interview is about as pressing as a broken travel iron.
Its undoubtedly Stone who is to blame for the lily-livered nature of the film. He comes across as a complete and utter crawler, sappily allowing Castro to witter on in politically-correct sound bites, saying all the right things and not once being called to task. Stone brags in the films opening about how Castro was given the right to call for a cut at any time, but never used it. The director may think thats a reflection of the Cuban leaders openness, but all it really shows is that Castro could tell he was getting an easy ride (and, considering some of Stones questions are as lame as When you were in the jungle with the army, did anyone ever get fed up?, its hardly surprising).
In the end, I couldnt help but wonder what the footage left on the cutting room floor must have been like. Stone sycophantically droning on about how much he loves beards? Castro telling one weak gag after another while his interviewer hysterically rolls around the floor laughing? Or perhaps just hour upon hour of the pair of them hugging. Whatever those lost 28-and-a-half hours feature, whats been selected for public consumption seldom manages to live up to expectations.
It's Got: Castro proudly trumpeting the Cuban education system with a cry of even our prostitutes are university graduates! Aw, bless.
It Needs: Castro to, at one point or another, threaten to crush us all like the western capitalist pigs we are.
Alternatives:The Fog of War
This fawning, limp-wristed pandering over one of the modern ages most controversial political figures tells us absolutely nothing. Its a good job its entertaining.