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What to See – Che

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Steven Soderbergh’s two-part epic about the life (and death) of Che Guevara (played by Benicio Del Toro) doesn’t just open in a number of cities nationwide this weekend; in a demonstration of how, in movie distribution, the future is now, it’s also available for download via IFC’s on-demand channel. Che should be seen on the big screen to best enjoy its sweep and scope — though if on-demand is your only option, it’s better than not seeing it at all, which, considering the indifference it’s been treated to by award groups, you might have considered doing.

It’s easy to figure out why Soderbergh’s movie has being largely overlooked by tastemakers. Right-leaning moviegoers see the rousing excitement of the first part, where Guevara and his fellow revolutionaries take Cuba, shown in bold, exciting scenes of action, and shun its glorification of violence; left-leaning moviegoers, who revere the sainted image that launched a thousand T-shirts, look at the sad, dark shape of the second half, where Guevara tries — and fails — to foment a second revolution (in Bolivia), and shun it for daring to show Che as fallible. Lazy moviegoers spanning the entire political spectrum dread the prospect of five hours at the movies.

I can’t think of a better endorsement for Soderbergh’s movies than the fact that they manage to infuriate both sides of the political spectrum; they possess a complexity that most movies nowadays can’t be bothered with. Che is long — but it’s also good, and watching it is an experience of a kind that comes around only once in a few years. Shot with a digital camera, it looks amazing — both the sunburned urban action of part one and the gray, drizzly sadness of part two. If you’ve been avoiding Che because you’ve no interest in the history of Latin America, you owe it to yourself to get a glimpse of the future of moviemaking.

The two parts don’t purport to tell you everything about Guevara’s life; instead, they show you a few moments, a few victories, a few defeats. Snubbed by the Golden Globes, it’ll probably be ignored by the Academy, too. But I can’t think of another movie this year that’s more likely to retain its fascination, 10, 20, or 30 years from now, as a complex story of complex matters, as an artifact of how the 21st century viewed the 20th. It’ll be a challenge for some to track down Che, to make room for it, to find the openness of schedule and mind to really take it in. Those who try will find it’s more than worth it.

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