Che: Where Soderbergh Went Wrong

NOTE: This is a movie review in the sense that it is an opinion piece about a movie (or rather, two movies). However, this piece looks at the four-hour film “Che” as a whole, not in its soon-to-be-released separate parts. To get a detailed look at parts one and two, wait for the next issue of “Hollywood Blockbusters” set to hit your inbox later this week. If you do not have a subscription, they are free. Simply email

“Che,” the latest work from film mastermind Steven Soderbergh, is driving me mad. It’s a film that completely defies its audience. I’m running down a list of critical reviews from critics I have otherwise respected and am shocked to see their approval of this movie. I’ve already written my reviews for “Che” parts one and two for the newsletter, but the sudden burst of praise for this movie from people in my profession has forced me to write a response piece, and where better to put it than the “Hollywood Blog-buster?”

A critic from The Washington Post called it “absorbing” and “hypnotic.” Well, hypnotic it is, in the sense that it makes you sleepy… very sleepy. At well over four hours, “Che” becomes tiresome about thirty minutes in. Absorbing it isn’t. It’s very dull, in fact.

Why is it dull? I’ll let Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times explain one of the reasons in his 3 1/2 out of 4 star review: “The film plays in two parts, named ‘The Argentine’ and ‘Guerrilla.’ It resists the temptation to pump up the volume, to outline [Ernesto “Che” Guevera] (Benicio del Toro) against the horizon, to touch conventional biographical bases.”

What does that really mean, Mr. Ebert? Think about it, this is a movie about the revolutionary wars in Cuba and Bolivia as seen through the eyes of one of their key players (“Che” Guevera) and you’re happy that it doesn’t go back to old cliches from other biographical epics. I’m fine with that, too. But let’s look later in your review at one of your other praises: “There is no fancy camerawork; he looks steadily at Che’s dogged determination. There are very few subjective shots… This is not a war movie. It is about one man’s unrealistic compulsion to stay his course.”

Part Two is indeed not a war movie, and is indeed about Che’s compulsion to stay with the Bolivian Revolution. However Part One would’ve benefited from a little less chatter and a little more war.

The camerawork is too simple and dull. Its scenes are poorly constructed and most of them look the same. Some fancy camerawork would’ve come in handy during many of the scenes, if only to keep the audience awake!

Let’s talk script. Part One is handled by Peter Buchman, who may very well be one of the worst screenwriters alive. How he went from writing “Eragon” and “Jurassic Park 3” to a biographical epic I don’t know, but in my opinion, he went from bad to worse. Steve Ramos of Boxoffice disagrees with me in his 4 out of 5 star review: “With his best script to date, screenwriter Peter Buchman emphasizes character over action and small, intimate moments over grand spectacle.”

In other words, we learn a lot about Che and Castro but no real story is told and no real suspense is built. It’s ok to get up and pee during this one. Nothing’s going to happen.

Is Che a character worth delving into? Definitely. Perhaps the film’s only saving grace is a very underplayed performance by Benicio del Toro. He links us well through the two parts, and by the end is the only reason we’re watching.

Now, any critics tell me “That’s the point,” let it be on record that the main point is that I not be pulling out my hair by the end of the film waiting for something to happen.

The second half, scripted with just a slight improvement by Benjamin A. van der Veen, follows him to Bolivia. This half is better, not because everything we’re missing in the first half is present, but because the story and themes are far more interesting and better played off. It’s the perfect sequel, if it had been good.

Director Steven Soderbergh is what I call an “experimental filmmaker.” The guy will try anything once. His “Oceans” movies have been good Hollywood fun while “Traffic,” “The Good German,” and “Bubble” have all done things a bit differently, sometimes with no success. Here, he’s different. He’s ambitious, and he clearly had something in mind for this film. But this one’s a dud.

Then again, Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe could be right. He says, “It’s amazing that this movie, with its stretches of profound quiet…has come from a man who excels at extravagant Hollywood classicism. ‘Che’ is not an easy movie to sell…but in the coming years when the pressure of award expectations and marketing demands dissolve, Soderbergh’s film will be there ready for a serious audience to appreciate its makers’ achievement.”

Maybe someday…


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