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With: Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir, Santiago Cabrera, Elvira Minguez, Jorge Perugorria, Edgar Ramirez, Victor Rasuk, Armando Riesco, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Rodrigo Santoro, Unax Ugalde, Yul Vazquez, Carlos Bardem, Joaquim de Almeida, Eduard Fernandez, Marc-Andre Grondin, Oscar Jaenada, Kahlil Mendez, Matt Damon, Jordi Molla, Ruben Ochandiano, Julia Ormond, Gaston Pauls, Lou Diamond Phillips, Franka Potente, Mark Umbers
Written by: Peter Buchman, Benjamin A. van der Veen, based on writings by Ernesto 'Che' Guevara
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Spanish, English with English subtitles
Running Time: 267
Date: 05/21/2008

Che (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Guerrilla in the Midst

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The first thing Steven Soderbergh's four-hour epic biopic does is to sidestep anything you might expect from a four-hour biopic; this movie has nothing to do with Lawrence of Arabia, Patton or Malcolm X. It's down-to-the-ground filmmaking, spending time on moments and details, but forsaking many biographical elements and most other characters. We're lucky if we might recognize one or two other faces from scene to scene. Other people come and go in Che's life, but in the end there is only Che. It's far, far better than the gutless The Motorcycle Diaries from four years ago, though for many viewers the lack of emotional content will make it a tough slog.

Soderbergh employs a kind of draggy, druggy look, shooting entire scenes in only one or two shots, but then cutting quickly -- no lingering -- and generally cutting to an almost entirely unrelated scene. It's an odd effect, and one that should not work, but it does, mainly because Soderbergh is saying as much about the nature of biography as he is about one Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Everyone in the film relates to Che (Benicio Del Toro, who also produced) as a celebrity, and that's perhaps what the film is really about, much like last year's great films The Assassination of Jesse James and I'm Not There were. Del Toro doesn't quite look like Che, but he slips easily into Che's fame and wears it well; it's a very low-key, off-the-radar performance, unlike most biopics. Screenwriters Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen rarely have anything bad to say about Che, except that he suffered from asthma. According to the film, he was kind to children, paid farmers handsomely for food and offered his medical services when needed. Again, this seems like a one-sided argument, but again Soderbergh's intelligent tone and distance open up other possibilities. (The moment-by-moment treatment allows for a "bigger picture.")

Che was at one point Terrence Malick's project, and though he's not credited, I swear that a few shots here and there looked like his work. Lots of familiar faces turn up from time to time, but only for a scene or two: Julia Ormond as an interviewer, Franka Potente, Matt Damon, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Lou Diamond Phillips as Mario Monje, etc. Che runs 4-1/2 hours altogether, and it will be released to theaters in two parts: The Argentine, about the revolution against Batista in Cuba, and Guerrilla, about Che's subsequent, incognito efforts to start a similar revolution in Bolivia.

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