TIFF Review: Che

[Che – Ryerson – Friday, September 14th – North American Premiere]

Soderbergh’s latest feature will be referred by some as epic – which it is… in length, but not in subject matter. A completely Spanish film, Che is true to Ernesto Guevara’s story to the very detail, but lacks real depth into the life of Ernesto.

Steven Soderbergh opens Che in the most ambiguous of ways: he has an eight minute, silent segment of a map of Cuba, highlighting every city and capital found within the country in sluggish pace. It was an informative way to open the film, but certainly could’ve been done in a more ideal way. Che is a tepid but politically conscious film, Che is no more than your typical war film with overly extended scenes of recruitment, as well as being based on fact. This was fine (especially for the first part, the glorious film The Argentine) but the pacing became slightly frantic in important areas. When there’s a lot of build up to a (hopefully) big speech from Che Guevara or in areas where uproarious, but constitutionally confined, political statements would be made it would cut away quickly. For those who go to see the film for Che’s revolutionary statements in parliament, be forewarned: this film focuses predominantly on Che’s rebellion rather than the moments that led up to it, and with 260 minutes of running time people will be baffled at how it couldn’t include half an hour of Che before the rebellion. Shot with three types of film: 16mm, 35mm and the all-new RedOne, Che is a beautiful film to look at. It oozes reality and grit, but because of the new technology used on the film, it is ridiculously beautiful, so no matter what you won’t want to look away from this four hour film for a second. Steven Soderbergh is a very masterful director, so of course he knew what he was doing with such a film, but it seemed as if he wanted to make something epic as opposed to something completely devout to the legacy of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Soderbergh’s Che will be looked at as a masterpiece or a disaster – there won’t be much room for middle-ground.

The screenplay, written by Peter Buchman (Eragon) and Benjamin A. van der Veen (first screenplay – and only co-wrote Guerrilla) is give or take in the strictest sense possible. Within the first forty minutes, you’ll know how the entire film will be like. If you don’t like its take on Ernesto Guevara’s story, then just leave it; you won’t enjoy the next 200+ minutes. However, if you do enjoy the first forty minutes and think “Interesting. A war story with Che as an important player rather than a story all about Che.”, then you’ll just love the film. The first half (The Argentine) has some of the best writing of the year, is constantly interesting and revealing new information about Che and Che’s politics through the medium of war, and is flat out 130 minutes of greatness. However, after The Argentine concludes, we get Guerrilla; still a good film, but it doesn’t add anything to the first part, apart from some flashback interview scenes and an absolute ending. This part could have easily been reduced to half an hour and Che would’ve been a great three hour film. Unfortunately, Buchman and Soderbergh felt it necessary to make the film strenuous and overly play out the little subject matter they decided to work with. Guerrilla is a fine film on its own, but with The Argentine in Che it seemed completely unnecessary and makes for a much more anemic product. It also lacks the intrigue that the first part of the film has; demoting wartime scenarios to a minor role in the second part, leaving the majority to be banter that had already been spit in part one. The Argentine = splendid; Guerrilla = pretty good but very unnecessary.

Che is a film nearly pushing four and a half hours and is one of, if not, the longest film you’ll ever see. Most are wondering “Is it worth it?”, and to be honest, it depends. If you’re going in hoping for four hours of Che Guevara’s politics and his actions against communist Cuba then no, it is definitely not worth the time. This is mainly due to the fact the film barely touches on Che’s political actions up front, but plays off of Che’s iconic status for the majority; the film is about recruiting people and going to war, basically. There is little actually spoken from Che – especially about his beliefs – apart from a few interview segments here and there.

Though Che is the main character, he is looked at more symbolically than one would imagine. The story follows Che’s rebellion and only his rebellion. When Che isn’t in the midst of the rebels, stirring their blood to get them piped for war, the film doesn’t focus on Che. If Che is called to speak to the President of the United States, the story continues to follow the troops. The film is all about the fight for freedom and not only about Che. However, there are flashbacks (the same flashbacks I mentioned earlier) where you get a bit deeper into Che’s policies and reasons for creating such an impact on Cuban culture. Anyways, the plot is pretty simple now that mostly everything has been laid out. In the first part, Ernesto Guevara goes “I’ve had enough of this” and starts to form his own group of troops to fight communist Cuba in hopes to take over it. The first part continues on this ideology and frequents actual war often. In between these battles, there are new recruits and little issues that come up on their way across Cuba. In part two, there is much less war and a lot more discussion about how to revive the ill and injured, as opposed to war. The second part is more of the after effects of a lot of violence. There are also a lot more interviews in part two; reporters are much more interested in Che Guevara because of what he’s accomplished. There isn’t a deep plot with twists and turns – it’s just a simple story told in a very long period of time.

I’m not going to bore you with a lot of talk about the performances, because they’re all very good, but no one is especially noteworthy apart from two performers: Edgar Ramirez and Benicio del Toro. Edgar Ramirez plays Ciro Redondo, one of the major rebels throughout. He has excellent chemistry with everyone on screen and is reliable for most of the lighthearted and pleasant scenes in the film. His character goes through a lot of change throughout the entirety and Ramirez does a very good job at sustaining the change.

Benicio del Toro plays Ernesto “Che” Guevara in what is the most physical performance to date. Though del Toro doesn’t go through much change in personality, he stays strong throughout, speaks with admiration and conviction in his all important speeches, and re-creates all the mannerisms Ernesto had himself. It is a grand performance in a grand film.

To close, Soderbergh’s Che is a monster. He does a quaint and consistent job keeping this monster under control for the most part, but… there are times where one cannot control a monster no matter how much they’d like to. The film occasionally engulfs Soderbergh; engrossing even him in the spectacle, which leads the film to be an admirable and fairly great attempt at a 21st Century Epic, but is too flawed to be a masterpiece along the lines of Lawrence of Arabia. ***½/****