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Starring: Benicio del Toro, Demian Bichir, Santiago Cabrera, Elvira Minguez

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Produced by: Laura Bickford, Benicio del Toro

Written by: Peter Buchman, Benjamin A. van der Veen

Distributor: IFC Films; also available on IFC's cable Video On Demand.


As seen at AFI Fest 2008:

     It will be hard for me to discuss the extent of my thoughts on Steven Soderbergh's 4-1/2 hour epic, Che, within the confines of a short review, but the movie didn’t conjure up enough excitement to make me want to explore it in longer form. This is because Che boasts none of the standard markings of a sprawling opus; instead, it's almost exclusively strung together by minor moments. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach on the surface, it quickly tires three hours in because the film lacks distinctness. In other words: if you were wondering what Che Guevara, the man who is equally praised by leftists for being a heroic revolutionary as he is condemned by moderates and conservatives for being responsible for dozens of brutal murders, was like on a trivial human level when he camped out before skirmishes in his revolutions in Cuba and Bolivia, then this is the movie for you. Most of us will find that in the end Che is boring, unaffecting, and politically abhorrent.

     What I found most curious about Che was how differently I reacted to its two parts. (It was split primarily for commercial reasons—it will show as two separate engagements at most theatres—but there were some artistic differences between the segments like theatrical aspect ratio.) Part one, The Argentine, covers Guevara’s participation in the Cuban Revolution, from the communist principles that led him to participate to the battles he fought to his relationship with Fidel Castro. It succeeds as a straightforward war film with a uniquely intimate scope because Soderbergh adheres to detail and doesn't over-glamorize Che. (No, Soderbergh doesn't depict his subject for the murderer he was, but given the movie is told from Che's emotional-perspective, this is forgivable). The cinematography is sweeping, especially when one considers how good it looks for digital. And Benicio Del Toro just flat-out disappears into the role of Che, instantly sucking the viewer in.

     Part two of the film, Guerrilla, is awful. It moves with the pace of molasses, covering the aforementioned "quieter" moments of Che's attempted overthrow of the Bolivian government, years after his efforts in Cuba became infamous. I don't have any problem with this approach in theory—in fact, I think Soderbergh's refusal to go for a traditionally epic approach was noble and lends admirable grit to the material-—but it doesn't work overall because scribes Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen's script contains few interesting insights on Che the man. The result is a 2+ hour saga that delves into a completely empty version of a Che’s psyche,  fast becoming repetitive. And the final scenes absolutely glamorize Che in an inappropriate manner, with sympathetic POV photography that is as morally-condemnable as it is aesthetically-beautiful. Yes, Del Toro remains as good in part two as he is in part one—I don't believe there was any lapse in filming, so any difference in the quality of his performance would have been unexpected—but he can't save what becomes a yawn-inducing and arguably offensive finish to what begins as a pretty good movie. What a shame.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 11.7.2008

Screened on: 11.1.2008 at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA.


Che is rated R and runs 257 minutes plus an intermission.

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