Steven Soderbergh is a filmmaker who takes chances Ė and youíve got to give him credit for that. He won an Oscar for Traffic and has created some very entertaining films including Erin Brockovich and Out of Sight. But while watching Che, I couldnít help wondering why he lost sight of most of his audience by giving us an almost five hour movie which ends up being sheer torture to watch during most of its long running time.
Granted, Soderbergh prefers this film be shown in two parts back-to-back with an intermission -- and originally thought the footage for Part One: The Argentine would simply be used as an introduction to Part Two: Guerilla -- but no matter how itís formatted, the movie fails to give viewers in-depth information about Ernesto ĎCheí Guevara as a man instead of a as a counter-culture symbol. Frankly itís more about the details of guerilla fighting. Part One tracks Fidel Castroís followers and their successful revolution in Cuba. Part Two deals with Cheís failed Bolivian campaign. How many shoot-outs can you pack into five hours? Too many, in my opinion.
As Che, Benicio Del Toro may have given a great performance, but itís hard to tell because of the camera angles and shortage of close-ups. Soderbergh did his own cinematography (under the name of Peter Andrews), so he has to take the blame for this. However, some of his landscape shots in Part 2 come across as quite dramatic. Del Toro also earned an Oscar (for Traffic -- Best Supporting Actor), so we know he has the acting chops to carry this role. I just wish the movie would have concentrated more on him instead of on the gunplay. (Critic Donald Levit likens these sequences to old Wild West shoot-outs.) My favorite Del Toro performance is his heart-wrenching work as a recovering drug addict in Things We Lost in the Fire (co-starring Halle Berry) which, sadly, went virtually unnoticed last year -- but I digress.
Does Che paint Guevara as some kind of saint or savior? Itís based on the manís own Bolivian Diary, so heís certainly not shown as a villain. There are scenes where he uses his medical skills as a doctor to heal people. And he expresses serious concern over the status of the peasants and government corruption. He sees the revolution as something to be carried on throughout South America -- thatís why he left Cuba and took on the Bolivian campaign. However, the movie doesnít flinch at depicting his misjudgment of support in Bolivia. Strangely, after watching for close to five hours, I felt very little empathy for Che. The movie and its characters just seemed flat to me. But finally, in Cheís capture sequence, real old-fashioned storytelling gets underway -- and Del Toro excels like the fine actor we know he can be.
Who might enjoy Che? Avid Del Toro fans, history buffs and the art-house crowd. But to me, Che is more a curiosity than a must-see movie.
(Released by IFC Films; not rated by MPAA.)
Listen to Betty Jo discuss Che with Fausta Wertz, an expert on Latin America, by clicking here.