Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lumpy Epic

Stay awake! Or I'll SHOOT!

No surprise to learn that Steven Soderberg's two-part Che, which costs $61 million to make, has to date earned an embarrassing $1.7 million at the box office.

I saw it back in March and was woefully unimpressed.

Some thoughts I never got around to posting:

I'm sure if I cared enough to pursue it I could find out just what possessed Steven Soderberg to make not one film about the late revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara, but two. A four-hour film -- normally shown in two parts, as it has been over the past week at the Nickelodeon -- is nothing if not an act of ambition, presumably from a film artist with a lot to say and the clout to say it at considerable length. Soderberg is an unquestionably talented filmmaker, and the trademark hand-held camera work we always associate with him is on considerable display, but this is a dull, plodding, torpid, oddly inert and passionless film; it feels somewhat dutiful and educational and the one movie that kept coming to mind was Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, except that was a lot better.

Soderberg seems to have had a real problem knowing just what his film is about. I got the feeling he had no particular sense of Che, that he wasn't sure whether to take the objective approach or the wide-eyed hero-worshipping adulatory one and he wound up settling for both. Benicio del Toro certainly looks the part of the title character, and I don't doubt he seized the role with passion, but the script never turns him loose.

The first part, which tells the story of Che's adult life and political awakening and activity, is bookish and undramatic. The second part, which focuses on Che's campaign in Bolivia, is unendurable, illustrating the sheer difficulty of finding the drama in a long, drawn-out guerrilla campaign. It amounts to little more than two hours of people moving from bush to bush.

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