Reviewer's Rating 3 out of 5   User Rating 4 out of 5
Comandante (2003)
PG Contains archive footage of victims of conflict

From JFK to Jim Morrison and Richard Nixon, the subjects of Oliver Stone's films have usually crashed and burned by the time he gets round to making a movie about them. But Comandante marks a refreshing change.

He eschews the usual bombastic biopic since the film's subject - Cuban leader Fidel Castro - is still in the land of the living, and available for interview.

Shot in February 2002, Comandante is an unprecedented and entertaining chinwag with Fidel about everything from politics to guns to cheeseburgers. Stone chews the fat with the man who is still considered the bugbear of American foreign policy.

Apparently, the revolutionary leader only agreed to the interview under the condition that he could stop the filming at any moment. In the end, Castro never exercised this power, something that Stone proudly believes is a mark of the man's commitment to the project. In truth, it actually says more about the filmmaker's softly-softly interviewing technique.

Painfully embarrassed by the necessity of asking tough questions, Stone stoically confronts Castro over his record on human rights abuses, and the mistreatment of homosexuals. But he never challenges the dictator's well-rehearsed - often quite ridiculous - propagandistic replies, for fear of spoiling the convivial atmosphere.

It's the kind of toothless interviewing technique that'd leave Jeremy Paxman appalled, and viewers infuriated.

Fortunately, whatever its flaws, Comandante is never less than immensely entertaining. Chatting to Stone about the assassination of JFK, Castro says: I have never believed in the theory of the lone gunman, leaving the director positively beaming with delight.

On the possibility of a Havana branch of McDonald's or the joys of Viagra, Fidel proves a charismatic and eloquent character.

Had Stone kept a lid on his hero-worship Comandante might have become the definitive warts 'n' all portrait of this great dictator. Instead, he sacrifices objectivity and candour in favour of kicking back and shooting the breeze with Fidel.

Ultimately, Comandante feels like little more than a backslapping love-in.

End Credits

Director: Oliver Stone

Writer: Oliver Stone

Stars: Oliver Stone, Fidel Castro

Genre: Documentary

Length: 99 minutes

Cinema: 03 October 2003

Country: USA/Spain

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