Top critical review
9 people found this helpful
Man of the revolution
on 24 March 2010
Steven Soderbergh created one of those movies that is lucky to have been made at all -- a four-hour-plus biopic of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.
But like most biographical movies, it's something of a mixed bag. Visually atmosphere and low-key in style, the two halves of "Che" focus on pivotal slices of Guevara's life, with an amazing lead performance by Benicio Del Toro as the titular revolutionary. Unfortunately, it's also a very slow-moving affair that brushes past some of the more unsavory facets of Che Guevara's life and personality... and ironically many of the positive ones.
Part 1: In the 1960s, Guevara (Benicio Del Toro) is in New York City for a UN conference, being interviewed by a US reporter about his viewpoints as a guerilla leader and revolutionary. Then the narrative jumps back a decade to when he and others (including Fidel Castro) consider the many injustices over in Cuba and start planning for a revolution. Despite being Argentinian by birth, Che follows them to Cuba and joins the guerilla revolution.
But despite his start as a medic, Che began showing talents in other areas, and becomes a leader of the guerilla outlaws in the Cuban countryside. He grapples with his own ill health (asthma), the loss of his compatriots and the attacks from the military, which also threaten some of the non-revolutionaries -- and as time goes on, their revolution gained power and notice, and began the ultimate battle for control of Cuba.
Part 2: Later in life, Guevera comes to Bolivia disguised as a bespectacled bald businessman, with the intent of fighting another revolution in that country. But this revolution doesn't go as well as the Cuban one (for Che): shortages in food, internal betrayal, and one of their contacts (Franka Potente) goofs up royally. As Guevera's health deteriorates, the Bolivian army and the CIA take measures to quash his guerilla forces...
Rather than the usual biographical movie format, Steven Soderbergh approaches "Che" as if he were filming a documentary. There are no scenes of little Che being kicked by a rich guy or melodramatic subplots -- it's quite literally a slice of the pivotal point of Che Guevara's life, and a 1960s shakycam interview adds to that feeling. As an added note of authenticity, almost all of the dialogue is in Spanish rather than poorly-accented English, giving a you-are-there feel.
The storyline is rather slow, speeding up gradually as the revolution really heats up... only to slow back down in the second half with Guevera's decline. Most of the story is devoted to the guerillas staggering through the countryside, living in rough shacks and campsites. Even the landscapes reflect the ascent and descent of Guevera's power -- the first half is crammed with lush, vibrant jungle life, and the second is a washed-out, grey expanse of scrubby brush. Unfortunately, this means that over four hours, the story often drags like a ripped parachute.
But despite the slowness, each movie climaxes with some revolutionary action. Pinging gunshots, explosions, tanks, tense chases through deserted streets and burning trains all play a part in the harrowing finales of each half, which are all the worst because you know that all this mayhem actually took place.
Del Toro is, to put it mildly, astonishing as Guevara -- not only is he a dead ringer physically (with the right facial hair and clothes), but he exudes a quiet charisma, literate intelligence and power that make you see exactly why someone might follow him if they agreed with his politics. No one else in the story really gets to stand out, but Del Toro simply IS the cast all by himself.
Yet ironically it's a piously bland, virtuous portrait of Guevera. Soderbergh wimps out on the cruel, extremist sides of his personality and the regime he helped create; on the other hand, he also brushes over the man's fierce intellect, his writing, and world interests. It feels like we're looking at one mirrored facet of a very complex man, and surely more of who he was -- the good, the bad AND the ugly -- could have been included.
It's obvious Soderbergh put a lot of heart into producing the raw, realistic "Che," but his glorification and simplication of a controversial figure drags down his labor of love.