Now this is what I'm talking about.
"The Motorcycle Diaries" wants you to light a candle at the altar. Steven Soderbergh's "Che" is more like a cold spotlight. It is simply his most ambitious, intelligent, massive epic. I like Soderbergh but his "I'll do anything" acts make him seem diffuse. He's kind of hit and miss with me. I adore "Traffic." "Bubble" did nothing for me. "Erin Brockovich" was alright. "Sex, Lies and Videotape" was cool. The Ocean movies are too slick. See?
Well, as a historical document, "Che" is triumphant and puts him up there with Werner Herzog.
It is also nearly impossible to love. You can only admire it. It's four hours plus (really, it's only tolerable as a two day event, and that's how I saw it). Soderbergh caters neither to the extreme right or the extreme left. This doesn't demonize or beatify, or pretends to explain Che. Is there NO bias? No, of course not. No one's ever made a movie without a bias. The moment you decide to aim your camera at something, you're biased. To pretend otherwise is foolish.
But Soderbergh isn't Oliver Stone. Yes, the movie omits the killings at La Cabana, (Che at his most cruel). You can read the list of prisoners who were executed without trials here. Most of them were personally shot by Che, and the best thing I can say about it is that he only killed two women. In interviews and press releases Soderbergh excuses the omission by saying that structurally it wasn't needed, (he also omits the Congo campaign, after all) and by saying that not even the staunchest Communist in Cuba stands by those murders. True- but isn't that exactly why he should show they happened? Soderbergh at least treats us to Che's fiery 1964 speech before the UN. ("Are we executing people? You bet! And we're going to KEEP on executing people!")
Benicio del Toro should have been nominated for an Oscar: he fades into Che, he IS Che. To watch this performance next to Gael Garcia Bernal's shows the difference between a likeable star and an ACTOR. The thing is, you might not notice how great he is. There are few close-ups, no way for you to get an emotional hang on this courageous madman. Sometimes you won't even recognize him among all the other olive-green clad bearded soldiers. Commercially, it's a lot to ask from the average movie-goer to watch someone for 4 hours, and to keep it cerebral and not invest emotionally.
If you don't speak Spanish, you simply cannot appreciate the movie. An Argentinean does not sound like a Cuban or a Mexican or a Venezuelan or a Bolivian, and that was integral to Che's disastrous Bolivian campaign. (What worked in Cuba did not work there. That was a revolution with popular support. But Che in Bolivia was a terrorist. Bolivians basically saw him as a scary foreigner who was trying to start a war they weren't asking for. You'll hear a lot from Che lovers about how the CIA tracked him down, but not so much about how the Communists wanted nothing to do with him either, or how his own guerilla people turned him in.)
Theoretically, the perfect audience for this is Cuban.
Here's where that gets tricky.
To the high ups in the Communist Party, this movie is simply not glowing enough. Che kind of looks like the dick he was. You don't see enough of a halo around his head. Also impersonations of Fidel are not welcome in Cuba, and the one in "Che" leans to the cartoon. As social networks ratchet up awareness in Cuba, official history might well be revised to show Che as a fiery hot head who wasn't ready to enjoy peaceful Communism, and then this movie will be useful, but not yet.
Most of the exile community won't watch this on principle.
And to the vast majority of Cubans, who already got Che looking down from every decrepit wall in Havana? This is as exciting as that recent 900-page "Washington" biography was to the average American.
SO? A good movie for most; an impenetrable, boring movie to many; propaganda for some; and a great movie for a few. I'm one of the few.
Movie fans might recognize among the huge, country-appropriate cast, the better known names of Catalina Sandino Moreno, Matt Damon, Franka Potente and Joaquim de Almeida.