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Cuba (Movie review)

Mike Bobbitt

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Directing Staff
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Movie Review

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Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie‘s plot.

You would think that I of all people would like a movie titled Cuba. Come to think of it how could any movie with Sean Connery in it be bad? Ok lets forget Zardoz.

However, in this case you‘d be wrong on both counts. This one is a dog. This one being CUBA the 1979 film directed by Richard Lester.

The film supposedly recounts the last days (weeks?) of the Batista Regime in 1958. It is seen through the eyes of several people, whose tales are intertwined. Connery plays Major Robert Daves, a mercenary and counter terrorist expert hired by Batista to stop Castro and the rebels. It‘s a case of too little too late.

On arrival in Havana, Connery bumps into an old flame Alexandra Pollido, (Brooke Adams) and tries to renew the passionate romance they had some fifteen years earlier. It should be noted that at the time she was either fifteen or seventeen depending on whose version you believe. Ah Sean you dirty old man you.

Alexandra is married to the wastrel son of an old member of the Cuban elite. She manages his cigar factory, as he is quite incapable of it. The other family business, a mill, rum factory, and sugar cane plantations are still owned and operated by Pollido senior, a friend and confidante of Batista.

Pollido junior, is having an affair, when he‘s sober enough to, with one of his factory workers. Her brother is a hot-tempered student at Havana University. Oh yeah, he‘s one of the rebels too.

Sound like a soap opera so far. Well it is, and I haven‘t even mentioned all the supporting cast. First there are Connery‘s fellow passengers on the plane into Havana.

They include an American businessman hoping to take advantage of the political unrest and buy up Pollido‘s factories cheap. There‘s also a washed up burlesque dancer and her whining agent in Havana hoping to restart her sagging career. Finally two US Government accountants sent down to examine any irregularities in the money sent to Batista to fight Castro.

Added to this group are the Cubans. First and formost is Batista‘s egotistical and simplistic Chief of Staff. Martin Balsam in a wasted role here. Add various corrupt cops with suit cases full of money, dumb soldiers, snotty chauffers, ladies of the evening, and of course lots and lots of rebels.

Finally there is Denholm Elliot as an expat English pilot. He plays both sides of the fence. He hob nobs with the Batista set and runs guns to the rebels.

All the characters in this farce are caricatures and cliches. All the Cuban cops‘, government officials, and soldiers are seen as boorish and corrupt. One cop even has a suitcase full of money in his office at headquarters.

His opening line to Connery is that he must arrest him. That is unless Connery pays him off. Connery does, in one of the better scenes, with Monopoly money he filches from a spoiled rich kid.

Balsam as Batista‘s second in command naturally has the biggest suitcase full of money in the whole country. A trunk full of cash, and a squad of soldiers who throughout the movie are seen filling it by raiding parking meters.

There is a scene of soldiers guarding Balsam and Elliot while they play golf. Another shows a room full of troops dutifully filling out ballots for the upcoming election to anoint Batista‘s hand-picked successor. Others are shown blundering through the cane fields, cutting ears off of dead rebels and later merrily slaughtering innocent bus passengers.

The only exception is the young officer assigned to escort Connery around. He is intelligent, honest, and actually seems to know what‘s going on. From the moment we meet him, you just know he‘s doomed.

Balsam‘s character is a buffon. When meeting Connery, he tells him that he was advised that if he wanted to get the best counter terrorist he had to "buy British." He then asks Connery to name his favourite weapon, anything at all and he‘ll get it for him. He‘s a little taken back when Connery says "brains."

In contrast all the rebels are motivated, and well educated. They are shown baking bread and exhorting the people to learn to read. That is when they‘re not crashing a dinner party in downtown Havana and machine gunning the tuxedo and evening gown set.

The unnamed leader appears to be a cross between Castro and Che Gueverra. He‘s tall, bearded, and wearing a black beret. For some strange reason he affects an upper class British accent. Perhaps to better show how educated and superior he is.

If the characterizations are bad, the setting is equally so. Naturally Lester wasn‘t able to film in Cuba. Spain was chosen as an alternate instead.

Some scenes do resemble Cuba, the old colonial buildings with palm trees out front, do give the impression of the Caribbean island. For the most part though he appears to have been content with filling almost every scene with lots of grim faced gun toting soldiers, and Cuban Flags.

There are some really glaring errors in a couple of scenes. The choice of locale in these scenes isn‘t important, and doesn‘t really help to enhance the movie. Instead it just adds to the lack of credibility.

In the opening scene a jeep carrying a couple of captured rebels is shown speeding across a bridge or causeway to a fort in Havana Bay? One of the rebels dives out of the jeep, and off the causeway. He then swims under the bridge to safety.

It‘s a neat scene, but there is no bridge, or causeway across Havana Bay. There‘s a tunnel, but I don‘t think you can swim under it.

Later in the movie we see Connery and Adams sharing a romantic moment while strolling along the Malecon, Havana‘s seawall. It‘s a nice scene until the camera pulls back and we see the waves gently lapping against the beach. The nearest beaches are twenty odd miles to the east of the city. A little research into this could have prevented these errors and added to the film‘s credibility, at least a little.

The climax of the movie is when Connery and several of the other characters are captured by the younger brother rebel. They are then driven to a confrontation with the main rebel force at a refinery in the countryside.

Connery has earlier deduced the bleeding obvious. Which has of course until now eluded all of Batista‘s forces. The rebels are using the Pollido cigar factory to store and ship weapons.

They of course easily find the rebels. Connery and the Che/Castro character meet and have a little confrontation. Batista‘s army led by Balsam arrives by train, and a battle soon ensues.

This battle involving an armoured train I guess is supposed to be the action between Batista‘s forces and a rebel column commanded by Che Gueverra that took place near the town of Santa Clara. In reality after that battle, Batista knew he had lost, and fled the country.

Santa Clara is in the center of Cuba, about a third of the way across the island from Havana. In real life the journey there would have involved several hours travelling through, first Batista‘s still intact army, and then the "front lines." In the movie it appears to be a simple couple of minutes‘ drive in the country.

Connery‘s character during this final fight, changes sides and joins the rebels. It‘s not clear if he decides they are in the right after all. He has been up to now a rather reluctant and cynical advisor. Maybe it‘s a case of self preservation. Probably he just realized he‘s not going to get paid by Balsam.

For whatever reason, in a feat that would make James Bond jealous. He single handedly captures a Cuban tank. Ok not quite single handed, he does have the help of the fat business man who was trying to buy the cigar factory. Using this tank he then proceeds to wipe out all the other Cuban tanks in a deadly game of cat and mouse in a burning sugar cane field.

After more than two hours of "intrigue" and "romance" it‘s nice to get some action finally. Even if it of the cartoon variety. With both 007, excuse me Major R. Daves, and Che/Castro against them, the Batista forces are quickly and soundly defeated.

There is then an end scene at Havana Airport. Connery and the other foreigners, those that survived, are shown trying to flee the country. There is a glimpse of Batista and his entourage including Pollido Senior scurrying onto a plane for Miami. The bit with a squad of soldiers carrying Batista‘s luggage, including a baby grand piano across the runway is kind of good.

Back in the terminal, the rebels enter, take over all the bureaucracy, and immediately begin issuing tickets and doing customs inspections. Che/Castro heroically limps in. He was heroically wounded back in the sugar cane field battle. He bids all the imperialists "bye bye" literally, and the film ends, except for some documentary footage of the real Castro‘s triumphant entry during the credits.

This film isn‘t completely bad, only 95% so. Connery is in it, and that‘s something. The Connery wit and the one liners are evident throughout the film.

Whether waging against Balsam‘s bumbling character, British bureaucrats or cheeky hotel clerks, he always comes out on top. He even holds his own against the Che/Castro character.

For the rest of the film though he appears to be disinterested. It‘s almost as if he‘s just going through the motions.

If memory serves me, this was at a low point in his career. It was post Bond, but prior to his becoming one of the "elder statesman leading stars" that he is now. Perhaps that is why he became involved in the project in the first place.

Some of the minor characters are amusing too. Although for the most part I doubt this was intentional. Denholm Elliot does provide some comic relief and you know that it was intentional in the script or at least I hope so.

There is a recurring bit involving the two US Government types. Every time there is a scene in Police headquarters, they are shown in the background dutifully trying to make some sense of Batista‘s corrupt books. They are totally oblivious to what is going on around them.

Finally near the end of the movie they mange to finish balancing the books and decide to go out and see the sights. The joke‘s on them. Batista has fled the country, and the rebels are swarming into the city.

I actually own a copy of this on video, but I watched it the other night on the History Channel, cuts, commercials and all. The moderator pointed out at the end that when it was released it was criticized by both the left and right.

One side found it too pro Castro. The other too much against him. I personally believe that they banded together in an instance of détente and realized that it was just a bad movie.

I guess it does show how few movies have been done about subject. This was all the History Channel could come up with.

If you‘re looking for a good romance or adventure yarn set in Cuba during this time, I‘d suggest skipping this one and rent Sydney Pollock‘s Havana with Robert Redford, Lena Olin, Raul Julia and Alan Arkin. It is a far better film and a lot more accurate in its attention to detail.