- Movie Rating -

Cuba (1979)

| December 21, 1979

I walked away from Richard Lester’s Cuba feeling that maybe I’d missed something, some crucial element that was tying the film together for me.  It all felt too loose, too unbound, as if the film didn’t have a central core that was pulling it from beginning to end.  Yet, looking back on it, maybe that was the point.  Maybe the idea is that since this movie takes place in Cuba during a time before Castro, when things were so random and so uncertain that almost anything is possible.

I guess that’s the only way that I could deal with this film which meant more to me than I think it was asking of me.  I’ve seen it twice, and the first time, I came away with mixed feelings.  I liked what I saw and I felt the experience, but maybe I’m too jaded by the requirements of the American Hollywood textures in which everything has to be one way, every story has to have one trajectory.  Maybe I’ve just seen too many movies.  Maybe I haven’t seen enough.

Cuba is a movie that doesn’t have a clear destination and, I think, that’s to put us in the character’s heads.  Things are tough all over, and no one is sure what to do.  Sean Connery plays Robert Dapes, a British Mercenary who finds himself in the middle of the drama of Cuba just before Castro’s fascist rebels swept across the country.  He’s been hired by Batista’s withering forces to help train soldiers for the oncoming battle with Castro, but he is smart enough to know that he is on the losing team.

Not helping things much is the reappearance of an old flame, Alexandra (Brooke Adams) who is now married to a Cuban aristocrat (Chris Sarandon) who make no bones about the fact that he likes the play the field.  In that way, Cuba becomes a much less dreamy retelling of Casablanca and on my second view of the film this is where I found my center with this film.

Casablanca found the clarity of ideals that was going on with the larger battle with Hitler, but Cuba is a little less sure of itself because its characters aren’t too sure of each other.  It moves back and forth between the geopolitical situation and the situation going on in their own personal drama.  And somehow, I don’t think that any of it works without the strength of the performances.

Connery is especially good, giving us a kind of aged weariness of a man who has been tied up in the government situation far too long.  It’s kind of what I imagine that a more ground James Bond might have been later in life if that series ever lifted its protected veil and just allowed him an ounce of reality. 

I like Lester direction here because he allows the frame to be filled with interesting characters who have interesting dialogue.  They may not be essential to the central story but you always sense that they have a life somewhere.  And, of course, there’s Lester’s habitual use of British-style slapstick, this time given mostly to a loud-mouth American developer who is in the country trying to land a deal before the revolution makes it impossible.  Much better is Hector Elizondo as Conner’s handler.  He could have been just the loyal sidekick but you always sense that he’s much more important than he appears.

So, here I am.  I started my review saying that I had mixed feelings and now I’m landing at the end of the review saying that it works.  It’s not the movie that you expect, and it wasn’t the movie that I expected.  Cuba feels messy but I think that’s the point.  It’s a good movie that doesn’t feel like every other movie that you’ve seen.  I have a feeling that seeing a third time will make me appreciate it even more.

Reviewed March 5, 2021

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized