Who’s In It: Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir, Rodrigo Santoro, Catalina Sandina Moreno, Franka Potente, Lou Diamond Phillips, Julia Ormond
The Basics: It’s the epic story of 1960s revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, with the first half detailing the successful Cuban Revolution and the second the failed Bolivian coup that came after. But what’s most important to you, the potential ticket-buyer, is even more basic than that: confusion over titles and release dates. If you live in New York or Los Angeles, you get to see this thing first, as Che, and it will be shown in one 4-plus-hours-long stretch. You’ll get an intermission. Then, in early 2009, other cities will see it open as two movies, The Argentine and Guerilla.
What’s The Deal: So worthy, so well-made, so understated, so documentary-like in its lack of pushy, emotionally cued score or fiery, inspirational “trailer moments,” so much an exercise in “Can I do it? Yes, I can!” for director Steven Soderbergh. And (for me) so darn much like slogging through a dreaded homework assignment that you’d be forgiven for skipping it, especially if you already paid attention to that part of history class. I know that makes me sort of a bad person for saying it. This is, without a doubt, fine filmmaking. Soderbergh refuses to comment on the man as either hero or tyrant, he’s just a reporter. And I admire that approach a lot. He's made a very good movie that I never want to watch again.
Who’s Great: Del Toro, of course. He goes for complex and enigmatic and gets there, all gold-medal style. Even his beard is up for the task. It’s like he was genetically engineered to play this guy. And it’s kind of cool to watch Franka Potente speak Spanish and have Lou Diamond Phillips back in something decent.
Why You Might Want To Wiki This Stuff Beforehand: Be ready not to get spoon-fed one single thing. Don’t know about key moments or geographic locations in the Cuban Revolution already? Too bad. Keep up. Soderbergh does provide slow-moving, on-screen maps and occasional exposition via Julia Ormond’s interviewer character. Just follow along anyway, you’ll get it in context. Or not.
And Then BANG There’s Matt Damon: He shows up for like five seconds and then he’s gone. Totally takes you out of the movie, but then again it’s so long you can forget you ever saw him until the final credits remind you he was in it.