The Criterion Collection released the latest film in their catalog this week, Steven Soderbergh’s Che. Che was released in 2008, but many people did not have the opportunity to see it in theaters. Even though Sean Penn vigorously argued on behalf of the film. It could have been because of the runtime, the fact that the film is in Spanish or even because of politics. It’s a shame though, because the film is an incredible display of beauty that is matched equally by the performance of Benicio Del Toro.
Che is separated into two parts. The first, more or less focus’ on the early beginnings of the Cuban revolution and the role that Che Guevera played. Che had early beginnings as a doctor, and then later became Fidel Castro’s second in command. The first film, by itself is hopeful and inspiring. Soderbergh depicts Che as he was seen by many, an intellectual revolutionary that only cares for equality and rest for the weary lower class. Soderbergh took a hard stance though, choosing to only focus on the positive aspects of a historical figure that displayed a strong sense of duality, and instances of contradiction throughout his life. So to anyone who watches the film, Che was a hero. Not to say he wasn’t, but for some people he was something far different than a hero. The film captures Che’s victory in Cuba, earning independence for the country. Che tells Castro that his next goal is to help all of Latin America earn their independence. This is a perfect segue into the next film.
The next film is titled Guerilla, and follows Che into Bolivia. He entered Bolivia in disguise so he could infiltrate the guerilla community and help them with their attempt at a revolution. This attempt would come to lead to Guevera’s demise though, and the second film places the viewer in a much more bleak environment. One particular detail to be noticed though, is the camera work and visual approach of each film individually. Once starting the second film, you can immediately notice the tone change. Del Toro takes the character to a new level, and physically shows the declining health of Che. The second film is shot as more of a linear narrative, and deals much more with his futile attempts in Boliva and the final stages of Che’s execution.
The films length is 271 minutes, and honestly feels just as long. However, if you want to immerse yourself into a specific perspective of Che’s life, then you really can’t look any further than Soderbergh’s film. Much like any film, it has it’s own low points. The film only shows a few weaknesses though, the length and lack of character expression would top my list. The film just did not need to be quite as long, but it is what it is. Benicio Del Toro turns in one of the best performances of the decade, but the character falls flat. As history and Che’s legacy would show, there was much more to this man than even this four and a half hour movie chose to show. I was just hoping to see some more of the pain and feelings that Che must have dealt with during his short life. Even with these faults, the film commands your attention with the imagery and environments on screen.
The film takes a chance to show some of the beautiful landscapes throughout Cuba, and the wartime imagery is very real and believable. This is a perfect film for the 1080p capabilities of Blu-ray, and Criterion’s work is pristine. There were a few times when I found myself turning down my home theater system out of surprise. The film shows so much with the camera and every once in a while the sound climbs and sneaks up on you. I can definitely say that if you want to know almost everything you can know about the last ten years of Che Guevera’s life, this Criterion set is for you. The special features include commentaries by John Lee Anderson which wrote Che Guevera – A Revolutionary Life, a documentary made in Bolivia right after Che’s execution and many more minutes of Che information. After the dust has settled, this film could be one of those great painful masterpieces that Soderbergh won’t be able to celebrate for another couple decades. For now though, we get a chance to appreciate the film in it’s greatest form.