Runtime: 4 hr 23 min
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Javier Bardem
"Che" is a Major Letdown.
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 7 years ago
"Che is a two-part 2008 biopic about Marxist revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Benicio del Toro as the title character." Doesn't that description (cut & pasted from Wikipedia) make this movie sound amazing? Hollywood has never taken on the mythic figure of Che Guevara before (unless you count the ludicrous 1969 biopic starring Omar Sharif), Soderbergh is one of today's cinematic heavyweights, and del Toro can always be counted on for idiosyncratic interpretations of his characters, from Fenster in The Usual Suspects to Oscar Acosta in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Alas, the movie is a major letdown: a 4 1/2 hour slog through South American guerrilla warfare in the second half of the 20th century. Rarely can I remember wanting to love a movie so much, and coming away so disappointed.
Che is mercifully broken up into two parts, each running roughly 135 minutes long. The first (and best) part is about the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship in Cuba. Soderbergh has rightly called it "the last analog revolution," and the fascination is in seeing how a small group of well organized men (led by Guevara and the Castro brothers) could take over an entire country because high-tech surveillance was still a thing of the future. The second part skips ahead to the failed uprising in Bolivia, which led to Guevara's execution.
The real problem here isn't the length but the approach. Soderbergh not only refuses to romanticize the situation, he refuses to dramatize it. Each scene is merely tactical, not concerned with human relationships but simply with getting the job done. Alone in the jungle, faced with impossible odds, these men must have shared some sense of common bond and camraderie, but you wouldn't know it from watching this movie. Which begs the question: What's the point? If the film essentially boils down to an instructional video, and this type of revolution can never be fought again, then what good is it?
Indeed, the film's best moments take place outside the jungle. In the first part, Soderbergh devotes alot of screen time to Guevara's visit to the United Nations in 1964. Here at least we get to see him speaking about his ideals and why he believed the Cuban revolution was a just cause. The opening of Part II is magnificent, showing Guevara disguised as an old man, spending time with his family, and enjoying the lasts moments in his life when he would be comfortable before plunging into the nightmare of the Bolivian jungle. But again, Soderbergh's approach undercuts the drama. Because of the film's length and the way it's structured, it's easy to forget that Che was killed only three years after his address at the UN.
Legendary filmmaker Terrence Malick (Badlands, The Thin Red Line) was originally supposed to make a film about Guevara's Bolivian campaign. Surely his mytho-poetic style would have produced a more compelling portrait of the man. As is, the life of Che Guevara is best celebrated not buy watching Che but by reading his books, learning about his ideals, or even watching The Motorcycles Diaries. Anything but wearing a tee-shirt.