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Che (Part One & Two)

Not a Prize Winner

Che: Part One: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Che: Part Two : 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Taken as a single film, Che will likely hold the distinction of being the LONGEST film in recent memory at a runtime topping 4 hours. Mercifully, director Steven Soderbergh elected to break this epic film into two separate films -- Che, Part One and Che, Part Two. The first "part" of Che focuses on Ernesto "Che" Guevaraís rise within the Cuban Revolution from doctor to commander to revolutionary hero. In Part Two, Che takes his show on the road to Bolivia where he attempts to incite yet another revolution.

Soderbergh deserves a great deal of credit for covering in exhaustive detail all the high and low points of Cheís revolutionary career, but at the end of four hours, there are still far too many questions about exactly who Che was and what drove him. Soderbergh does a great job of recreating the countless skirmishes between Che and the army in both Cuba and Bolivia which engages to a point. But, after a couple hours watching gunfire exchanges and blood spilled, the film becomes somewhat monotonous and tedious.

Itís quite remarkable that after four hours, we donít really know what Cheís story is despite an inspired performance by Benicio Del Toro. Del Toro plays Che with passion and is fully committed to the role. Itís unarguably a performance that will have Benicio jockeying for an Oscar nomination for the sole reason that Che is such an iconic figure (and Del Toro is just a great actor). But, the origins of Cheís passion and revolutionary spirit are left largely unexplored.

The most compelling part of Che is Part One is when we see his introduction to Fidel Castro and his rapid transformation into a key figure in the Cuban Revolution. Soderbergh does a reasonably solid job of mixing character development with a plethora of visceral action set pieces culminating with the climax of the first segment of the film. This part of the film is framed by an interview with Che in which he reflects on his experiences during the Cuban revolution. Screenwriter Peter Buchman clearly drew heavily from Cheís Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War in penning this first part of the film.

Part Two has an intriguing enough start as Che falls out of the public eye at the height of his popularity. Sporting fake teeth and a receding hairline, Che heads to Bolivia to foment the great Latin American Revolution. It would seem that Cheís decision to leave Cuba would provide a great opportunity to dig deeper into Cheís motivations and personality, but Part Two is comprised almost exclusively of battles in the jungle against the Bolivian army and the painfully slow decline of Che and his attempted revolution. The film drags considerably here.

Taken as a whole, Che (Parts One and Two) has moments where it shines brightly, but far too many moments where pacing lags and questions are left unanswered. The length of the film(s) tends to suggest that a mini-series might have been a better avenue to capture Cheís story effectively. While I wouldnít necessarily recommend either film, if youíre going to choose one or the other, Che: Part One is your best bet.