Forget the anxiety of influence: Steven Soderbergh’s anti-epic Che is haunted from first frame to last by the anxiety of legend. Against the unshakable confidence exhibited by his subject, Soderbergh evidences a conspicuously nervous and hesitating appreciation of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. This approach likely results from such a project’s unavoidable confrontation with the pop culture legacy of Che, as exemplified by the multiple generations of college-aged (very) would-be revolutionaries commodifying their dissent by sporting classic Chewear (featuring That Photo), likely manufactured in some third- world sweatshop. There’s probably no other 20th-century political figure, and symbol, as widely recognized and less understood than Guevara, and the gap between image and person is so wide that Soderbergh’s seemingly courageous decision to address it by being oblique and indirect leads him to the very place he wishes to avoid: mystification.
Soderbergh has spent so much of his filmmaking career creating a body of work more theoretically curious than experientially rewarding that it comes as no surprise that the back story to the production and exhibition of Che—the title of the four-hour-plus (with intermission) diptych of disparate jungle warfare actioners The Argentine and Guerilla—threatens to overshadow the actual content of the film. Not only do we have to contend with the special circumstances of Che’s release, both in the “road show” version referred to above and as separate films, but we have to take into account its place as the first ever film to employ the Red One, a digital camera with the build of a 16mm that’s able to anamorphically capture widescreen compositions. As with Soderbergh’s experiments with new technology and marketing strategies for Full Frontal and Bubble, the bells and whistles of Che fail to redeem a less than groundbreaking result.