The rule about long films is they have to be good. If your movie is taking an extra hour of my time then I better be compensated in quality. Well Che, the long awaited biopic about Che Guevara, takes that bait and then some, clocking in at the impressively ass-numbing 4 hours and 17 minutes. By doing this it backed itself into quite the corner, as a film at that running time anything less then amazing is going to leave its audience somewhat ticked off seeing as there's nothing quite like spending twice as long on something half as good. Sadly, despite the potential in Guevara's story its another one of the forgettable Oscar baiting biopics that falls way short of what it should have been.
The film is split into two portions, the first following Guevara's and Castro's successful guerrilla revolution in the jungles and towns of Cuba; and the second following his failed guerrilla revolution in the jungles of Bolivia. If you hadn't guessed from my phrasing in that brief introduction, a major problem this film has is repetition. We probably spend a literal two hours and forty minutes in the jungle witnessing the bare bones of guerrilla warfare, warts and all. At first this is interesting, but after a while the sheer amount of screen-time we spend on pointless moments in the jungle begins to grate and one realises that this is simply rambling in its purest form and that this film has been cursed with a script with a pronounced inability to get to the point. In most cinemas, this film is being released in two parts, a studio enforced decision that to me makes a lot of sense. The style of this film is such that even the most patient viewer succumbs to boredom eventually, whereas in two parts perhaps its flaws would have seemed less obvious. The first section is the stronger of the two, inter-cutting the Cuban war with Che's visit to the UN. These scenes were the most interesting to me because they actually gave Benicio Del Toro something to act with, because the rest of the time his Che is almost suffocatingly written as a frigidly closed book. This film has little interest in Che Guevara the man, seemingly more preoccupied with being a history lesson and not in the learn through entertainment sense of the expression. More in the insufferable 4 hour dissertation on guerrilla warfare style. To be fair this ill be preferable to some people. Its obsession with detail and historical accuracy may be to the tune of the more fact fascinated individuals, but for anyone who goes in wanting to learn about the man behind the icon - to quote the tagline- they will be sorely disappointed as this film has close to know interest in his character in lieu of his accomplishments. Maybe it succeeds in changing him from indie icon to a predominant figure from history, but it doesn't succeed in making him into a human being.
All this leaves one feeling very sorry for Benicio Del Toro. This should have been his crowning achievement, a performance to define him as an actor. But after spending four hours with his Che, I have no idea who the fuck this guy is supposed to be. This is not Del Toro's fault, as his performance is perfectly in key with the film's tone. Low-key, to the point and no flash to be found at any point. Its an admirable thing to do, put his film above his own ego, but the character ends up rather bland and unimpressive. Lost amidst the sea of faceless guerrilla's that otherwise populate the cast. Given that the lead is given no chance to impress, barring a few minor scenes at the UN, you won't be suprised to learn that the rest of the cast of pretty much as unremarkable as you'd expect. Demian Bichir's Fidel Castro is barely given a look in, no doubt due to this being an American film and we all know the American's hate Castro. If anyone makes an impact, it would be Santiago Cabrera's Camilo, who is the only character who manages to be likeable. A big step up from playing Isaac Mendes on Heroes for Cabrera. Everone falls into a black hole of blandness that it seems no-one can escape. This is in many ways a misstep for director Steven Soderbergh, who directs entiely without flare or confidence, seeming almost as if he is trying to hard to appease studio heads. Some positives, before I finish what is yet another negative review, the south American scenery looks great, and one can learn a great deal from a historical standpont on the Cuban revolution. But at this length the average critic will be more bitter if you fail, which Soderbergh most definately does here.
This film took one of the 20th century's greatest icons and one of the modern era's greatest actors with a proven director and missed the mark by a long shot. Disappointing.