Che Part One (R) ★★

Review Date: December 17th, 2008

This two-part, four-hour-and-a half-hour epic look at Argentinean revolutionary Che Guevara is tedious, overlong and self-indulgent.


Director Steven Soderbergh creates a $60 million dollar art film aimed to be an epic look at the life of famed Argentinean rebel, Che Guevara (Benicio Del Toro). Split into two parts that may be shown either together or in separate engagements, the director seems intent on rewriting the book on biopics and in doing so, has completely muted a potentially interesting study of the man who became a revered figure in Fidel Castro's rise to power in Cuba. Part I, aka The Argentine, charts Che's beginning career as a charismatic young doctor, who meets Castro and sails to Cuba with the common goal of overthrowing corrupt dictator Fulgenico Batista. Proving himself to be a crafty and smart fighter, particularly when it comes to guerilla warfare, Che becomes a heroic figure among his colleagues and the Cubans. In Part II, aka Guerrilla, Che is portrayed after his peak power days when he mysteriously disappears, only to re-emerge in Bolivia where he organizes the Latin American Revolution. Largely focusing on the grunt work of the battles, this section details his dedication to a cause that ultimately will also become his tragic downfall.


When an even LONGER version of Che premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival, international reaction to the film was decidedly mixed at best -- even though Benicio Del Toro's performance was universally praised. Although he's physically perfect for the role, his approach is to basically mumble through the proceedings like a faux Marlon Brando in his Viva Zapata period. If Del Toro was indeed born to play this part, it doesn't really show, as he fails to connect with the audience. In the livelier first section -- in which the material is more political and intriguing -- Del Toro almost comes alive, especially when visiting New York and the U.N., but frustratingly, he mainly chooses to underplay to the point of tedium. The shootouts in the last part of the film come across as amateurish, something out of a '50s TV Western. The rest of the mostly Spanish cast does what they can with the hackneyed script, with standouts Rodrigo Santoro as Raul Castro, Catalina Sandino Moreno as Che's second wife and Demian Bichir, who manages to be quite convincing as Fidel Castro.


Unlike the lively portrait director Walter Salles achieved in the far more engaging and pertinent The Motorcycle Diaries, the usually talented Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) paints a dry profile of Che Guevera, diminishing whatever excitement may have existed in his life. By concentrating on these two narrow portions of Che's life, the director fails to deliver even the tiniest proof or argument as to why this man was so revered and remains so iconic to this day. The film completely skips over major points and fails to find the character's flaws. And the reported $60 million dollar budget is nowhere to be seen -- Che even looks dull and unexciting. It's clear Soderbergh simply got too close to the subject after seven years of research and somehow viewed this wannabe bio-epic as his own Lawrence of Arabia. Far from it. See it only if you need a good nap.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.