Very much a film of two parts (two films?), part one focuses principally on the year-and-a-half leading up to the 1959 Cuban revolution and part two concentrates on Che's ill-fated year-long Bolivian adventure from 1966 to 1967. The complete omission of the intervening years is in itself a serious weakness of this film.
Part one is excellent, its success largely due to the time-shifts so often criticised. The film opens in the US in 1964 with an interview with Che in which the question is posed whether or not US-sponsored reform might not be an alternative to revolution in South America. From there we flash back to Cuba to see the brutalities of the Batista regime in 1952 and from there we shift to Mexico in 1955 where we meet the revolutionaries in exile, whose discussions of the (previously graphically-portrayed - important!) dictatorship in Cuba make it quite clear that so-called reform is not an option. The rest of part one focuses on Che's role in the Cuban revolution from 1957 to 1959 with periodic time-shifts to Che in the US in 1964. These time-shifts enable the director to convey extra dimensions to the story in a subtle and unobtrusive way. Thus the combination of Che's actions and experiences in the field combine with the US scenes to give significant insights into his ethics and philosophy, revealing a profoundly humane and practical man with an unshakeable belief in truth and justice. In the field, Che reads during his rest-break, encourages his fighters to study, and emphasises the importance of education: "a people who cannot read and write are a people easy to deceive". In Che's revolution, the people join to fight, but also to learn.
Part two is a rather rambling account of Che's Bolivian adventure which lacks the extra dimensions of the first part. It follows Che's training activities and periodic confrontations with the Bolivian army through to his demise in la valle de Yuro. It is less effective precisely because it lacks the political and ethical dimensions that the time and scene shifts create in part one. The striking Bolivian miners, for example, are referred to on a number of occasions, but never represented directly. This is a major weakness. Nor - apart from the occasional encounter with a mountain peasant - is the socio-economic reality of Bolivia conveyed to the viewer.
The high point throughout the film however is Benicio del Toro's fantastic portrayal of Che. Each nuance is perfect!
A final (slightly technical) note on translation. It is entirely to the film's credit that the Spanish-speaking characters speak Spanish and that we have English subtitles. But unfortunately the translation is adequate rather than good. It is weak on two counts. One, it just doesn't convey the colloquial register of the protagonists, especially in part one: we often get stilted, formal English equivalents. Two, the frequent emphatic expressiveness of the Cubans in particular simply doesn't come across: we get a bland, "unmarked" English translation. This seems to be because the translator shies away from marked English syntax. While English might not have the syntactic flexibility of Spanish (in the colloquial verb-subject option for example), it does have much more flexibility than this translation recognises (and as a dip into functional linguistics would reveal). In short, the translations should really be better when they are of such central importance.