Recently, at the Cannes Film Festival, Steven Soderbergh premiered his four and a half hour movie about the Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. This is, in fact, the latest of several movies about Guevara because Hollywood, being the radical Left bastion that it is, began cranking these things out almost before Guevara’s corpse had gone cold. The first entitled Che, appeared in 1969, and starred Omar Sharif as Che, and Jack Palance as Fidel Castro. At least three other Che movies have appeared since, not counting the Soderbergh epic, one of which was made for television.
In an apparent attempt to cash in on the buzz generated by the premiere of Soderbergh’s movie, Image Entertainment has taken one of these earlier efforts, originally entitled Che Guevara, retitled it Che, and released it on DVD. Written and directed by Josh Evans, this particular Che flick was first released in 2005. Whether it played at the Cannes Film Festival, your reviewer does not know. One way to describe this film would be reverent, in the same way that Biblical epics are often reverent toward their subject. In fact, Che is a wretched piece of Left wing agitprop, dishonest, artless, amateurish, and boring.
Che begins (And ends) with Guevara as a prisoner in Bolivia, about to be executed following his failed attempt to lead a Communist revolution in that country. As he is being led out to face a firing squad, he begins narrating his story, asking how he came to be there. The movie then flashes back to Mexico in the 1950s, where Che and Fidel Castro are sharing a jail cell and planning the Cuban Revolution. The film then flashes forward to Havana shortly after the Communist takeover, where Guevara is telling his story to a worshipful American reporter. (Charis Michelsen)
Now obviously all of this is very confused. We keep flashing back and forth to different times and places, with Guevara telling his story to different people. The apparent reason for this is that Josh Evans has absolutely no ability to tell a story. He simply lacks the writing and directorial skills to show us Che’s story, so he falls back on the device of having Che narrate nearly everything. For example, while Che and Fidel are locked in that Mexican jail cell, Che tells us, through narration, that Fidel had a plan to get them out. And then the scene cuts to Fidel walking out of the jail cell. (Interestingly, without Che.) How this came about is never explained. Part of the problem may also be that the movie is only eighty minutes long. (It feels a lot longer)
Later in the film, Guevara tells us (Again through narration), that Fidel was a great leader, and that he faced many difficulties and solved many problems in the course of leading the revolution, but we never actually see any of this. We never see either Fidel or Che Guevara plan an attack, or inspire their men, or actually do much of anything that guerilla leaders normally do from day to day. We are simply told that these things were done. As a result, the film never develop any kind of narrative momentum, and the audience is simply left with scenes of the actors posing against the background scenery and praising the revolution.
What Evans does manage to show us of Che’s life is neither interesting, nor credible, nor anywhere close to the truth. At one point Che is wounded in the shoulder, but it does not seem to impair his functioning in any way, nor does it even seem to bleed very much. One character mentions afterwards that he need a new shirt, but that seems to be the worst of the damage. Later, when we see him with his shirt off, he hasn’t even got a scar. There are interminable scenes of Che and/or Castro chiding their men for taking someone’s property, or providing aid to the peasants, or denouncing terrorism (Which the Castro regime has, in fact, supported.) The most ridiculous moment comes when a guerilla fighter, just before an attack on an army post, asks permission to leave and go visit his dying mother. The man is sent on his way with Castro’s blessing and some folding money for bus fare or whatever. In fact, the real Che Guevara executed quite a few of his own men for cowardice, desertion, or other crimes either real or imagined.
When Evans finally gets round to killing Che off, , he actually manages to make it unintentionally funny. In the opening, we saw Che being led out to face a firing squad. But the movie ends with a Bolivian soldier walking into Che’s cell and blowing him away with a revolver while Che protests “I am only a man! I am only a man!” So much for continuity and internal consistency. Of course, judging by the rifle wound to the shoulder, Che was remarkably resistant to gunfire, so maybe he had to be killed twice.
None of the performances in this film are even remotely convincing. Eduardo Noriega, as Che, looks more like a gay Jesus than a guerilla leader. He probably has a good future ahead of him as a cover model for romance novels. Apart from providing endless narration, he hasn’t got much to do except stand there and look saintly. Enrico Lo Verso’s Fidel Castro is marginally more interesting, but his dialog mostly consists of slogans that could have come from posters in downtown Havana. Watching this uninspired duo, one almost wishes that they would bring the old Omar Sharif/Jack Palance Che out on DVD - those old pros probably did this shtick a lot better.
In a way, it seems fitting that this utter piece of dreck is coming out on DVD shortly before Memorial Day. If this movie has any redeeming value, it is that watching it may actually give the viewer a renewed appreciation for the men and women of America’s armed forces. Without their skill, courage, dedication, and self sacrifice, our civilization would long ago have fallen to men like Che and Fidel. And had that happened, movies like this would very likely be the only kind we would ever get to see.