638 Ways to Kill Castro: A 2006 Documentary

After a bit of calculation and counting, 638 is the number of plots and conspiracies against Fidel Castro arrived at by his former head of state security Fabian Escalante. This documentary looks back at the history of this continual attempts by the US Government to kill Castro via various proxies. Whether it be the infamous Bay of Pigs incident or the plans to undermine him by making his beard fall out, we get interviews from those involved from both Cuba and the US.
A rather mixed bag this documentary. On one hand it feels all a bit cheeky and light hearted, using film stock from unrelated films (Angels with Dirty Faces) to illustrate what the narrator is saying. But on the other hand it is a film that includes footage of executions and does, at the end of the day, deal with a dictator who killed dissidents within his own country and has been a target of the US for decades. Some others have praised this light hearted approach but personally I found it distracting. Yes at times the plots are daft (powder to make his beard fall out, exploding cigars, LSD in a TV studio to make him freak out etc) but mostly this serious stuff. That said though, the film is still interesting regardless of this mixed approach and has done really well to get access to lots of significant players within this story. Infamous terrorist Orlando Bosch (granted residency in the US by Bush Sr even though 30+ countries refused to accept him) and it is chilling to watch him confess to a plane bombing that killed all the passengers but also more! The standard of the rest of the contributors is similarly high, including former US diplomats, former friend Enrique Ovares (who committed suicide just weeks after this film was made) and others. The narration is a bit flat but the biggest problem is the direction from Cannell. With so many great contributors talking so honestly about state-sanctioned terrorism, the death of innocents and so on, why was it felt necessary to overuse stock footage of a house exploding, or clips from old spy b-movies? I have no idea but it did seem that the film was interesting in spite of the delivery rather than because of it.

Damning and fascinating stuff then. Really well researched and with great access to key people, many of whom are astonishingly frank. The comic tone to it and use lots of inappropriate stock footage were big mistakes though and undermine the importance and quality of the film. A very mixed bag then, but the good outweighs the bad but it is very much worth seeing.

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