Everyone knows Ché Guevara the radical, Ché Guevara
the leader of the Cuban revolution, Ché Guevara the
political activist. Frankly, I don’t think we need to
hear anymore about his communist likes; I, personally,
cannot stand them. However, The Motorcycle Diaries
is a movie about Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, the same
man, before he changed his name and became the figure
that he is thought of as, in today’s society. It tells
the tale of a more illusive and interesting Ché Guevara,
and works, for the most part.
The film is based on Guevara’s
memoirs and takes place when he was in his early
twenties. Then, he and his friend, Alberto Granado
(Rodrigo de la Serna), set out on an 8,000 kilometer
journey, up the South American continent. They began on
motorcycle, but later had to adapt the methods of boat,
foot, and truck, after their bike broke down. At the
time, Guevara had one more semester of medical school to
complete and Granado was a working biochemist. They
postponed their travels a number of times when visiting
Ché’s girlfriend, meeting with a scientist/writer, and
working at a village for those suffering from leprosy.
Much of this generates quite a bit of interest, but
The Motorcycle Diaries suffers from being far too
long, in the end.
In fact, by the third act,
The Motorcycle Diaries becomes incredibly boring.
Each event seems strung out, as if director Walter
Salles is trying to savor certain moments when there is
nothing savory about them. There are many long strands
of meaningless dialogue, which hold no thematic
resonance, in the least. They do contribute to the
rather illusive mood of the picture, but Gustavo
Santaolalla hypnotic score and Eric Gautier’s beautiful
camerawork usually suffice in that area.
When The Motorcycle Diaries
succeeds, it is when it is most heavily reliant upon its
leading actors. De la Serna is terrific and Bernal, in
particular, carries the movie with a fuming and
realizing presence that works extremely well, as
Guevara. No matter what his politics turned out like and
how young he was when his motorcyclist excursion took
place, all audience members will look at him as
respectable, while watching The Motorcycle Diaries.
The view of Guevara in the film is one of independence,
even when it shows his communist beliefs developing.
Salles has fashioned a spectacle in much of his film; it
is a discovery-piece, not a biographical essay.
The Motorcycle Diaries
is abundant in redeeming characteristics, but in the
end, it turns out to have too much of a good thing. In
the midst of all of the adventure and knowledge being
acquired by the characters, the relatively simple
concept wears thin on the audience. Even with all of the
development taking place in the film, it is only a
standard road movie at heart, and lack of interest
catches up with the audience, come the final third.
Running a long two hours and eight minutes, Salles
could’ve cut an entire half-hour and The Motorcycle
Diaries would’ve carried the same meaning and been
equally (or even more) riveting. Nevertheless, it’s nice
to see any foreign movie receive as wide a release as
this one is. I surely have no room to complain.
-Danny, Bucket Reviews (10.10.2004)