Review: 'Che'

Overlong biopic offers little new to our knowledge of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara as an icon and human being.

Laura Magruder Courtesy of IFC Films
Demian Bichir as Fidel Castro and Benicio Del Toro as Che in CHE directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Although Steven Soderbergh's two-part "Che" may have an epic running time of almost 4-1/2 hours, its scope is surprisingly narrow. This biopic of Ernesto "Che" Guevara starring Benicio Del Toro may have pretensions to be "Lawrence of Arabia" but, at least in its second half, it's more like "Che of the Bolivian Jungle."

For now, "Che" is being made available theatrically on Dec. 12 in New York and Los Angeles for one week only as a single film complete with intermission and collectible program notes. In early January it will be released nationwide as two stand-alone films: "The Argentine," which covers the years 1955 to 1962 when Che fought alongside Fidel Castro and became a Marxist superstar; and "Guerillas," which begins in 1966 in Bolivia and ends a year later with Che's death following his failed attempt to lead a peasant insurrection. It will also be available in January through Video on Demand.

Soderbergh has said that he will eventually film a third segment covering Che's intervening years in Cuba and the Congo. You shouldn't hold your breath.

Or maybe you should. Soderbergh is nothing if not determined. As desultory and unsatisfying as "Che" is, it still bears the stamp of a personal obsession. But to what end exactly? Soderbergh adds very little to our knowledge of Guevara, both as icon and as human being. Mostly what we get are docudramatic snippets from a life all too hagiographically rendered. (Where are Che's death squads?) The filmmaking is often fluid – Soderbergh did his own cinematography – but "Che" is a long sit no matter how you slice it. Grade: C+

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