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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Steven Soderbergh
Cast:
Benicio Del Toro, Demián Bichir, Julia Ormond, Carlos Bardem, Victor Rasuk, Rodrigo Santoro, Santiago Cabrera, Vladimir Cruz, Alfredo de Quesada, Catalina Sandino Moreno
Writing Credits:
Peter Buchman , Benjamin A. van der Veen, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (Bolivian Diary)

Synopsis:
Far from a conventional biopic, Steven Soderbergh’s film about Che Guevara is a fascinating exploration of the revolutionary as icon. Daring in its refusal to make the socialist leader into an easy martyr or hero, Che paints a vivid, naturalistic portrait of the man himself (Benicio del Toro, in a stunning, Cannes-award-winning performance), from his overthrow of the Batista dictatorship to his 1964 United Nations trip to the end of his short life. Composed of two parts, the first a kaleidoscopic view of the Cuban Revolution and the second an all-action dramatization of Che’s failed campaign in Bolivia, Che is Soderbergh’s most epic vision.

Box Office:
Budget
$70 million (Parts I & II)

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.39:1 (Part 1)
Widescreen 1.78:1 (Part 2)
Audio:
Spanish/English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 271 min.
Price: $49.95
Release Date: 1/19/2010

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life Author Jon Lee Anderson
• “”Making Che” Documentary
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• “End of a Revolution” Documentary
• “Interviews from Cuba”
• “Che and the Digital Cinema Revolution Featurette
• Trailer


• Booklet
• Mini-Poster


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Che: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 19, 2010)

Perhaps there’s another “A”-list director as ambitious and experimental as Steven Soderbergh, but if so, I can’t think of that person. And with each passing year, it appears that Soderbergh more fully embraces his avant garde side.

Case in point: 2009’s Che. Soderbergh’s decision to make a biopic about Che Guevara doesn’t sound especially daring, and it actually sounds like an “Oscar bait” move on Soderbergh’s part: make a dense, self-important film about Guevara’s life and wait for the awards!

What makes Che more challenging than most? Its sheer cinematic ambition. The film runs about four and a half hours, a running time so long that theaters screened it in two separate parts. Indeed, one could easily consider Che to be two different films. Based on Guevara’s Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War, “Part 1” follows the events of the Cuban Revolution, with a focus on Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Benicio Del Toro). Set in the latter half of the 1950s, the Argentinean joins the battle against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista; we follow the battles Guevara leads as we head toward the rebels’ ultimate victory.

“Part 1” also offers segments set in 1964. We see Guevara during a visit to New York to speak at the United Nations. He also engages in an interview; that framework allows us to jump back to the Revolution.

On the other hand, “Part 2” takes place in 1967. Adapted from Guevara’s Bolivian Diary, Guevara leaves Cuba to find action somewhere else – Bolivia, in this case. Supported by Fidel Castro (Demian Bichir), Guevara attempts to lead a revolution similar to the one in Cuba. Alas, this doesn’t go as well for his side.

And none of it goes especially well for the viewer. With almost four and a half hours of footage at its disposal, one might expect Che to offer a good portrait – psychological or otherwise – of its subject. In that regard, it fails miserably. At no point does the film do much to reveal Guevara to us. He comes across as a pretty dedicated Communist, but that’s about it; we don’t get any sense of a greater internal life or anything else. Che lives to serve the cause and otherwise comes devoid of personality.

This also means the film presents an almost total lack of real narrative. In “Part 1”, the rebels wander from place to place, fight, and eventually win. In “Part 2”, the rebels wander from place to place, fight, and eventually lose. We find little to distinguish one character from another. The film throws tons of supporting roles at us, but none of them stick.

Perhaps Soderbergh did this on purpose to reflect the overall ideals of Guevara’s Communist beliefs. In a system that favors the whole, it negates the individual. Rather than glorify Guevara as a unique hero, Che just presents him as another brick in the wall. Maybe that was Soderbergh’s intention.

Or perhaps Soderbergh wanted to make Guevara dull to take the piss out of the Legendary Che. Over the last 40 years, Guevara’s visage has graced the T-shirts of hipsters worldwide, most of whom know nothing about him other than that he looked cool in a beret.

Che could be Soderbergh’s attempt to reveal that the revolutionary wore no clothes; for all his power as a symbol, Soderbergh’s Guevara didn’t actually do much. He succeeded as Castro’s second – or maybe third – banana but couldn’t do the job in Bolivia when he took the full reins. Maybe Soderbergh wanted to paint an ordinary, uninteresting Guevara to deflate four decades of hype.

Or perhaps Soderbergh just made a really dull movie. Because Soderbergh’s so bright and skilled, I want to believe that there’s some stylistic or conceptual purpose for the tedious nature of Che, but even if the ennui comes as part of a master plan, the flick remains awfully tough to take. A dull 90-minute film would be a waste of time; a dull 271-minute film becomes a painful ordeal.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus A-

Che appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.39:1 for “Part 1” and in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 for “Part 2”. Very few problems occurred here.

And the smattering of minor flaws I observed popped up during “Part 1”. Though the majority of that segment offered excellent sharpness, a few wide shots looked a little iffy. I thought this likely stemmed from the digital cameras used, but whatever the cause, the occasional instance of softness still appeared. “Part 2” was rock solid, though, and most of “Part 1” provided stellar clarity.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement never materialized. I also failed to notice any print flaws. From start to finish, the movie looked clean and fresh.

Though it lacked a dynamic palette, the colors of Che were solid. “Part 1” went with a fairly green jungle look, while “Part 2” made things colder; though it took place in a similar setting, it told a darker tale, so it used chillier tones. At all times, the discs represented the hues well within the visual design.

As with the sharpness, blacks and shadows occasionally suffered slightly due to the choice of digital cameras. Again, this was noticeable only in “Part 1”; I thought a few shots showed slightly inky blacks, and those low-light shots could be a wee bit dense. However, those instances didn’t appear frequently, and once again, “Part 2” didn’t demonstrate those tendencies at all; it gave us a nearly flawless presentation. Even with these minor complaints, I felt very pleased with Che, as the vast majority of this very long movie looked excellent.

As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Che, it complimented the material nicely. For the most part, the mix best came to life during battle scenes. This meant that the more action-oriented “Part 1” fared better than the darker, quieter “Part 2”. The former boasted a good number of fight sequences, and those used the various channels to positive effect. Some similar segments cropped up in “Part 2”, but they were rarer.

Whenever these scenes did occur, though, they featured broad material that meshed together well. Quieter sequences showed decent environmental audio, and music fared nicely. The score presented good stereo imaging at all times.

Audio quality satisfied. Almost all of the dialogue was in Spanish, which meant that I couldn’t truly judge intelligibility. Nonetheless, the lines always sounded natural and precise, without any signs of negative elements.

Music worked well. The score was bright and dynamic, so that side of things came across in a fine manner. Effects were also more than satisfactory, as they showed solid depth and clarity. I didn’t think the mix boasted the ambition to merit “A”-level consideration, but it was quite good.

Criterion provides a nice array of extras here. We can watch the film with an audio commentary from Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life author Jon Lee Anderson. He provides a running, occasionally screen-specific discussion of Guevara’s life and times.

Don’t expect a particularly concise biography, as Anderson provides a fairly loose overview. I can’t really fault the author for that, though; since he at least vaguely attempts to reflect the material on the screen, he can’t give his commentary the normal “birth to death” arc. Nonetheless, he fills the time well. He offers a good portrait of Guevara and fleshes out the man in a compelling manner.

Indeed, you’ll probably wonder how Soderbergh made a boring movie out of such a charismatic personality, but that’s a different subject. Actually, Anderson occasionally does provide his thoughts about the movie, and they’re not strictly complimentary; he expresses definite reservations about Soderbergh’s take on the subject. Anderson helps us better understand Guevara and his era, so his commentary succeeds well.

Both discs provide Deleted Scenes. We get 10 of these for “Part 1” (15:31) and another four for “Part 2” (5:26). These don’t do anything to alter the focus of the movie or expand on it in a significant manner. I like the depiction of helpful soldiers with a scared peasant, and a trial sequence musters some drama, but most of the clips stick with the same tedious “wandering through the forest” footage that already dominates the final flick. We got more than enough of that.

We can check out the deleted scenes with or without commentary from director Steven Soderbergh. He’s always been an interesting commentator, and he covers these scenes well. Soderbergh relates some details about them and lets us know why he cut them.

On Disc One, we find a documentary called Making Che. During this 49-minute, 50-second program, we hear from Soderbergh, writers Peter Buchman and Ben van der Veen, producer Laura Bickford and actor Benicio Del Toro. They discuss about the project’s origins and long development, aspects of the screenplay, various locations, shooting in Spanish and the film’s take on its subject, Del Toro’s performance as Guevara, the use of digital cameras, and the flick’s release/reception.

I remain disappointed Soderbergh failed to record a commentary for Che; despite – or perhaps due to – the fact I don’t like the film, I would’ve loved to hear more of his thoughts about it. At least "Making” helps connect some of those dots. It provides a meaty documentary that wastes little time with fluffy nonsense. It digs into the production well and offers a good overview.

Disc Two includes a 1968 documentary entitled End of a Revolution. It goes for 25 minutes, 52 seconds as it shows British film producer Brian Moser’s trip to Bolivia in 1967. This includes a first-hand account of a viewing of Guevara’s corpse as well as a look at the Bolivia that Che wanted to improve. The program boasts a good “you are there” feel; what it lacks in perspective, it makes up for in immediacy.

Interviews from Cuba splits into two areas. “Participants” (23:08) features those who served in the Cuban Revolution, while “Historians” (11:53) includes those who documented it. In the first group, we hear from Generals Enrique and Rogelio Acevedo, Ricardo Alarcon, Leonardo Tamayo Nunez, and Harry Villegas, while the latter category gives us notes from Mario Mencia Cobas and Herberto N. Acosta. Both sets of remarks allow us to learn more about the facts of Guevara’s life and actions, so they serve to add to the package.

In addition to the movie’s trailer, we get a featurette called Che and the Digital Cinema Revolution. It runs 33 minutes, 20 seconds and provides statements from Soderbergh, first camera assistant Steve Meizler, “the arsonist at RED” Deanan Dasilva, first assistant editor/Digital Workflow Nat Jencks, and “RED code chef” Rob Lohman. They discuss the RED digital cameras used to shoot Che and their related pros and cons. This sounds like a dry piece, but it actually proves to be pretty interesting, as it gives us a nice look at challenges connected to this new style of film photography.

Like virtually all Criterion releases, Che comes with a booklet. This 24-page piece provides some credits as well as an insightful essay from film critic Amy Taubin. The set also throws in a mini-poster.

Classics like Lawrence of Arabia and Gone with the Wind demonstrate that super-long movies can remain riveting or at least generally compelling. However, in the four and a half hour Che, we find precious little to maintain our attention. Tedious and flat, the movie starts to bore within minutes and never improves.

At least this release treats the film well. The Blu-ray provides almost flawless visuals along with very good audio and a consistently positive package of supplements. Criterion deliver a terrific release for an almost shockingly dull movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8333 Stars Number of Votes: 6
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main