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"Che"

Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Written by Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen.  Based on the journals of Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
Starring Benicio Del Toro and many, many others.

Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  1/23/09

Folks--

Ross and I went to watch the four-hour-plus opus "Che" last night for two reasons:  first, for this week only, they are showing all four hours of "Che" together as one movie, as the director intended; second, Benicio Del Toro was in town for a Q&A after our screening, and who doesn't love Q&A with famous people?

I don't know about Ross, but here's what I will say--the first half of "Che" is pretty good.  The second half of "Che" felt like one long running skirmish featuring not much character development, not much decent action and not much of anything more than the conceit of the filmmakers.  This was, in part, because I had already been in the theater for 3+ hours.  This was also in part due to shitty filmmaking.

In what will be released as "Che Part One", we get to meet Mr. Guevara (Del Toro)--doctor, revolutionary, lover, bazooka expert--when he meets Fidel Castro (Demiān Bichir) as a dinner party in Mexico City in the 1950s.  From there, Fidel and Che become fast friends, so fast that a couple of scenes after meeting, we're in Cuba at the southern border, watching as the two men lead a band of ragtag misfits--I love the term "ragtag misfits"--past trained soldiers in what becomes the first of many victories for Fidel and his troops as he aims to overthrow the government.  In between these scenes, we get to see Che as he appears at the United Nations in the 1960s on behalf of Cuba to denounce anyone, anywhere, about everything, while doing interviews for CBS about his thoughts and feelings on everything he doesn't address at the UN.  These black-and-white sequences often supercede or voiceover action sequences happening in the past, and the mix of this gives you good insight into Che the revolutionary, as well as Che the honorable man.  We get good action during the first half of the film, ending with the takeover of a city; we get the requisite training sequences, the introduction of a woman who later becomes Che's wife (er, second wife), the great Cuban music, and beautiful scenery shot by the director.

Then, we had a 20-minute intermission, and then the train wreck began.

"Che Part Two" is essentially the last 12 months of Che's life; after retiring from Cuban revolutionary life, apparently the Che guy went to Bolivia in the mid-60s to help Communists there overthrow the government, BUT with less men, less prep time, and more worthy opposing forces.  So, after Che sneaks into La Paz, he goes to the jungle to train more revolutionaries, and then spends the rest of the film (about 90 minutes' worth) battling Bolivian soldiers.  Like, literally, three-minute skirmish, five-minute scene of Che's team running out of food, suffering, complaining...three-minute skirmish, five-minute scene of Che battling personal health issues and the lack of real reinforcements...three-minute skirmish.  Every so often, we get a sequence featuring the Bolivian president (the great Joaquim de Alameda, from hundreds of other flicks) talking about how much he hates Che or how he's about to get aid from the U.S.  Then, it's another skirmish!!

Blah.

The second half of the film also has no flashes to Che speaking to the U.N., or his new wife, or Fidel about how bad ass the late 50s-early 60s were...nope, we're in the moment, and even worse, director Steven Soderbergh decides to remind us every few minutes what day we are in...it feels like a forever until we get to the day that Che is finally executed by his enemies.  Strangely, I was rooting for this, and even after it happens, the movie gives us two more minutes of footage.

Yikes!

Del Toro is incredible and now I'm a bit surprised this work didn't get him an Oscar nomination.  The shoot must have taken months and Del Toro really does have a tour-de-force type of effort in this movie.  The acting is generally not the problem in "Che"...no, it's the excess that is the major problem.  I thought there was a lack of Castro scenes, or getting to the heart of his feelings on his right-hand man; I would have loved to see more of Che's upbringing, or the teachings that led him to become the man that he ended up being.  For some reason, a four-hour war movie just felt excessive, but a three-hour war movie like "Saving Private Ryan" was spectacular.  Something was missing, and the film was lively enough for me to stay awake for the whole damn thing, DESPITE a film that was 90% subtitles.

If it's released as two movies, go see the first film and then "forget" to watch the sequel...you can thank me later.

Rating for "Che Part One":  $9.50 Show
Rating for "Che Part Two":  Rental

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
Š 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/28/09