Steven Soderbergh's two-part historical epic about infamous revolutionary Che Guevara. My issues with 2008's Che: Part II are much the same as the ones I had with the first part. Interesting to watch, but in deciding not to take sides or pick a message, it remains a cold, even heartless movie.
It is 1965, six years since the successful Cuban Revolution overthrew the dictator and his government, and Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (Benicio Del Toro) is heading to Bolivia. After failed revolutionary ventures in Venezuela and the Congo, Guevara now hopes to lead another revolution, getting the poor lower class to depose a government that has become a military dictatorship. Driven by his ideals and beliefs from deep inside, Che starts from the ground up with a small group of like-minded fighters. Nothing comes easy though, and the walls begin to close in on Che and his followers.
Having watched Soderbergh's epic -- a total of 4 hours and 30 minutes -- I came away both impressed and disappointed. As moviegoers, we just don't see ventures like this anymore in films (in theaters at least). Soderbergh has made a true epic, one in principle at least that is reminiscent of such epics from the 1950s and 1960s. Principle and little else though unfortunately. Positives aside, I think Soderbergh made a fatal flaw in not choosing to take a side...even if it was a measured attempt. The fly-on-the-wall, quasi-documentary style is effective to a point, but not nearly as effective as it could have been. The story moves along from date to date (thanks to an abundance of title cards), but it feels like major chunks are missing.
This will sound ridiculous, but I've never seen a movie this long (Che: Part I and II) that had so little going on. It can be difficult to sit through some of these slow-moving portions, and there's plenty. Repetitious comes to mind. Countless shots of Che's followers traversing through the jungle, talking at their night camps, quick firefights with the Bolivian army. This is where a message would have been helpful. We know Che's objective; defeat the government, leading an uprising that will unite the Bolivian people. Other than a few brief asides as we meet some Bolivian peasants, the focus is on Che's efforts. I feel like I'm not doing a great job explaining myself, and my frustration is getting the best of me so I'm moving along.
What does work? The darkness. The sense of doom hovering over Che. Part I had some humorous -- if dark -- moments, but there is none of that here. Also from the word 'Go,' we see that Che's Bolivian efforts will go for naught. His men argue over food, over working rather than fighting, and that the Bolivian people will not back him. Seeing him try to counter and combat those efforts produces some of the more dramatic moments. Del Toro again is solid as Che. It's such a quiet, understated performance that it's hard to judge to harshly or too glowingly. The film is a visual stunner, contrasting the deep, vivid colors of the towns and villages with the harsh, washed-out feel of the mountains. Alberto Iglesias' score is again a winner, a bright spot in the slower moments.
Beyond Del Toro though, no one stands out in the supporting cast. Demian Bichir returns briefly as Fidel Castro as does Catalina Sandino Moreno as Alieda, Che's wife, and Rodrigo Santoro as Raul, Fidel's brother. As far as Che's followers go, the movie swings and misses. We hear countless names but learn nothing about any of them. They're the same sea of faces covered by unkempt facial hair and green uniforms and caps. They make no impact, lessening any degree of effectiveness the movie is shooting for when they are eventually killed. Franka Potente plays Tania, a loyal follower of Che's, while Joaquim de Almeida plays Bolivian president/dictator Rene Barrientos. Jordi Molla and Yul Vazquez are effective in small parts as officers leading the hunt for Che. Also look for Lou Diamond Phillips and Matt Damon in small, one-scene parts.
A ton of potential here, especially considering Soderbergh takes an honest, un-opinionated look at the life and death of such a divisive individual as Che Guevara. I came away feeling untouched though. When Che is finally captured and executed, the scene had no emotional impact on me in the least. Do I feel for him? Do I hate him? Instead, there's nothing, and that's never a good sign. I come away disappointed. I wanted to enjoy these more, but with no message or objective, we get four-plus hours of tedium. There are positives, but you have to find them amongst a sea of negatives.
Che: Part Two <---trailer (2008): ** 1/2 /****