If you’ve ever seen someone use a single-hair paint brush and miniature file to create scale models, you may appreciate the remarkable attention to detail that director Steven Soderbergh pays to every bullet-riddled wall, rotting map and mud-spattered Jeep in “Che,” his 4-hour, 17-minute opus on the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Guevara.
Split into two parts with separate admissions, “Che” is a technically remarkable film; Pablo Zamarraga’s editing alone is dazzling. But “Che,” written by Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen, is made of dates, names, locations and maneuvers, not emotion or human engagement. You’ll see revolutionary zeal and soldierly fortitude, but those make a meager diet over the course of more than 4 hours. And in the end, you will have learned only the wheres and whens, not the whys, of Guevara.
Benicio Del Toro plays “Che” as a taciturn, enigmatic figure who, over a pleasant dinner with Fidel Castro (Demian Bichir), agrees to help spearhead a Marxist revolution in Cuba. Part one follows Guevara’s grim slog through the Cuban jungle as he befriends wary farmers, dispenses rough justice and suffers debilitating bouts of asthma.
The Cuba campaign worked, as we know, but part two tells a less-familiar tale of Guevara’s attempt to take Bolivia. It’s nearly the same film, all wet jungles and ragged uniforms, except nothing goes right. Guevara, a foreigner, can’t galvanize his group of bickerers and bellyachers, while this enemy has extra muscle from U.S. forces.
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By the time Guevara meets his unceremonious end, Soderbergh’s masterful filmmaking has ceased to matter. After 4 hours studying the minutiae of Guevara’s life, it’s hard to care about a man we still don’t know.