Soderbergh shows limited vision in lengthy Che

by Beacon Staff • January 28, 2009

,iChe/i is a four-and-a-half hour character study that charts the personal development of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the iconic Argentinean doctor who helped lead Fidel Castro's Communist revolution in Cuba. The film, shot and directed by Steven Soderbergh, and starring Benicio Del Toro, is dissected into two individual films.

The first, called iThe Argentine/i, outlines Che's role in Castro's overthrowing of dictator Fulgencio Batista's Western friendly government. The second half, iGuerilla/i, tackles Che's darker days spent in Bolivia where he attempted in vain to export the Cuban revolution to other "oppressed" Latin nations.

Given the fervor surrounding Guevara decades after his demise, this film has a unique opportunity to demonstrate that the man himself was far more complex than the mythical figure he has become.

Unfortunately, Soderbergh fails to delve beneath the surface of his controversial protagonist, despite hours upon hours of footage. His unoriginal and overtly one-sided portrayal of Che ends up being this film's greatest weakness.

Following a recent screening of the movie, Benecio Del Toro, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar playing a Mexican Policia in Soderbergh's iTraffic/i, took questions from the audience. Del Toro's performance is earnest and sincere, and you can tell he did his homework.

He told iThe Beacon/i that prior to filming, he went to Cuba to meet with people who knew Che personally from different periods of his life, as well as men who were with him towards the end.

But the performance, by no fault of the performer, rarely explores Che's darker side, one that preferred armed struggle to peaceful means, which has a great deal to do with his polarizing legacy as a Cold War figure.

iChe/i goes to great lengths to demonstrate the human side of an icon whose influence in Latin America is almost as significant in 2008 as it was in 1958. Guevara's charismatic nature, tactical prowess and political significance are properly addressed.

However, maintaining a focus on his more violent nature is one of Soderbergh's main problems.

If a filmmaker is going to let his audience know beforehand that his art is worth four and a half hours of their time, it better be worth four and a half hours of an audience's time, which this surprisingly superficial film is not.

Where iThe Argentine/i places an emphasis on Che's role in a historical revolution, iGuerilla/i focuses on character-development that, thanks to the exclusion of Che's failed Bolivian conquests, remains historically selective and innacurate.

Soderbergh and Del Toro chose to tackle the tale of a 20th century icon whose story is likely to be told for years to come. Unfortunately, iChe/i fails to bring anything new and challenging to the table.