You’re a fool if you’d let a single movie dictate what you think about anything. In this case, it’s two movies you need to avoid letting make up your entire education: Che Part One: The Argentine and Che Part Two: The Guerilla. Soderburgh’s epic was meant to be seen in one sitting, but only Cannes attendees, some critics, and moviegoers in New York City and Los Angeles for a brief period in December had the opportunity to do that.
In a way, Steven Soderbergh’s film— along with Benicio Del Toro’s complex, sensitive performance in the title role— is almost most interesting for the furor it has raised and for the biases revealed by how we talk about it. Whether a man like Che Guevara was a freedom fighter or a terrorist is very much a matter of where the observer stands, but it doesn’t mean that any of those perspectives are wrong. They may be, but not automatically so. Here’s the other thing: Che exists as a matter of Guevara’s perspective.
Soderbergh and Del Toro—this truly is a tour de force performance—put us so totally into his head that it’s impossible not to sympathize with him. In Part One, it’s all about the Cuban revolution to overthrow Batista and Guevara’s rise from a doctor assisting rebels to a leader who grasps the intricacies of guerrilla warfare. In Part Two, it’s all about Guevara’s second attempt at revolution, in Bolivia, when his fame preceded him and his rebellion was less successful.
In both parts, Soderbergh is deliberately minimalist, eschewing almost all exposition and leaving us on our own to determine where we personally may stand—or even that we may stand off to the side, withholding judgment as the film itself does. But, you know, you can let the inexorable Che-ness of it flow over you without having to accede to it, if that’s your wont.