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CAN: Che

05.23.2008

CHE (also known as GUERRILLA)

Directed by: Steven Sodenberg
Starring: Benicio del Toro
Review by Deke Richards

PLOT: A look at legend and popular t-shirt image Che Guevara, from his days with Fidel Castro during the Cuban Revolution to his exploits in Bolivia as the leader of a band of guerrilla freedom fighters. Bring your cushions to give your butt a break - this is a LONGGGGG movie!

CRITIQUE: What Richard Fleischer tried to do in his 1969 film CHE about the Cuban revolutionary, Soderbergh accomplishes in his film adaptation of the same name and subject matter (points do go out to Fleischer for his fine sci-fi flick SOYLENT GREEN though but that's another story).

Soderbergh's CHE ran at a whopping 4hours and 28 minutes. I gotta say it; it's hands down the longest film that I've ever had to sit through on the big screen. When the end credits rolled and I left the theatre - I WAS Che! I guess Mr. Soderbergh doing all those OCEANS 11 sequels paid off! How else can you explain the powers that be allowing him to go this far! I have no idea how they're gonna recoup on this one! I guess they'll cut the film into two installments, but that didn't really work for KILL BILL revenue wise, does CHE stand a chance? Time will tell.

But don’t let CHE's length (and the fact that the bulk of it is in Spanish) stop you from seeing it! This biography-adventure had to be the most captivating movie I've seen in a while. First off, Benicio Del Toro was ASTOUNDING in the lead role. I didn't see Benicio once on the screen - all I saw was Che. If he hadn't sold me as much as he did, I doubt the film would have worked half as well. The relatively unknown supporting players (to North Americans anyways) were second to none as well! We finally get a perfect Fidel Castro in Demian Bichir! A lesser actor would have turned him into a bad caricature (the great Jack Palance had me smirking when he took a crack it in the Richard Fleischer version) but Bichir's appearance, performance and feel were as Fidel as you can get!

Then there was Steven Soderbergh’s keen eye, obvious skill at an even flow storytelling and the jaw dropping cinematography clocking in to elevate this picture to near masterpiece level. Soderbergh somewhat used the same editing/way of communicating narrative that he did in his film TRAFFIC. During the first two acts of CHE we were constantly going back and forth between: Che during the guerrilla war in Cuba (1956-59), giving us much depth as to his everyday life as a freedom fighter, and then to his 1964 New York trip to the U.N., giving us the world's perception of the man. And all of it was communicated via vibrant colors and in black and white at that! Highly effective. Being that I am a history buff, I obviously relished the meticulous and overall attention to the details too. Everything from Che’s varied looks (1956 to 1967), down to the uniforms and the equipment during the Cuban and Bolivian scenes were bang on accurate.

With all these ups there were fortunately only a few downs. The first and second act flowed smooth but the transition into the third act (Che’s departure from Cuba in disguise, to embark on a new revolutionary adventure in Bolivia circa 1966-67) was a bit choppy. Maybe that 10 minute intermission time threw me off or maybe it was THAT awkward! Not sure yet. And the third act itself although intense, did not have the same impact as the fist half of the film, since it basically covered ground we had already seen:: Guerrilla warfare in a jungle. And I have to say this! Seeing Matt Damon and Lou Diamond Phillips appear in cameos kind of threw me off. Both are very good actors in their own rights, but I couldn't help to think of Lou Diamond hunting “Bats” or Damon on the verge smashing up some cars “Bourne” style! Yes they took me out of the movie a bit.

Unlike “Heaven’s Gate”, the very long running time here should satisfy FILM BUFFS and CHE aficionados as opposed to putting them in an early grave. You know Che's life very well? See it unravel on the big screen with quality all over. You don't know Che much! See this film, you will afterwards. You wear a Che t-shirt every other day but still have no idea who the man is? Stop making a fool of yourself and see CHE. At least after the film you will have a valid reason to see the film.

Rating: 9/10

Source: JoBlo.com

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