Movie review: The Liberator is reverent to a fault

What should be an epic biography nearly comes off as an epic fail.

Rather than lend his film a sense of grandeur and import, Alberto Arvelo’s sweeping shots of gorgeous vistas and masses of loyal soldiers trekking across the vast South American continent serve mostly to highlight the shortcomings of The Liberator (Libertador). Instead of developing character and motivation, and delving into its historical era, the film is content to romanticize its hero with broad strokes. We first meet Simon Bolivar in 1828 Bogota, when the passionate embrace he shares with his lover is interrupted by rebels attempting a coup against his leadership of the Gran Colombia republic he founded. It's a "show the end at the beginning" introduction, a needless and ultimately disappointing gimmick that suggests more than it delivers when we return to the episode near the movie’s conclusion.

From there, we are taken to the Venezuela of 1800, where a young, newlywed Bolivar (Edgar Ramirez, who plays him for the movie's 30-year time span) resides with his Spanish bride. Together they frolic along picturesque hills in kitschy abandon as the camera swirls around, then past them. A post-coital scene shows the two lovers as a kind of Adam and Eve, naked in paradise and safe in each other's proximity.

That kind of reverence and the lazy storytelling that follows are consistent throughout the movie. During a brief interlude in Paris, Bolivar initially resists his tutor — to whom he refers as "Maestro" — and the tutor's insistence that he lead a revolt against the Spanish colonialists in South America. That resistance is depicted as a few moments of sulking, before Bolivar decides that his mentor is right.

Back in South America, leading its people against the Spanish rulers, Bolivar cuts the figure of a playboy revolutionary — the stud men want to be, and women want to be with. A general hired by Bolivar to lead the troops talks about the “borders imposed by Spain” and a fight for the “spirit of America." The Liberator is unable to give life to those words, and so it just plays like History Lite — handsomely mounted, but cheap and empty, only skimming the surface of Bolivar's real life, the era he lived in, and the contributions he made to the fight for democracy and freedom.

The Liberator admires its subject without reservation. The historical freedom fighter for a unified South America — who endeavored to "end the reign of Cortez and 300 years of Spanish rule" — is depicted here as less a flawed human than a great man with a few minor faults that disappear as quickly as they became apparent. The difference may account for the distance between us as viewers and a subject that remains not just unknown, but ultimately uninteresting.

When Bolivar is asked by a captor who he is, he responds, “I am the people.” This could have been a powerful, resonant statement. Here, it falls flat, an attempt to place a halo around a character who deserves a better film.

2.5 out of 5 stars
Unrated. Directed by Alberto Arvelo. Starring Édgar Ramírez, Erich Wildpret, María Valverde. Now playing.