It took me all of four months to get around to seeing this film. Frankly, the notion of sitting through a biopic of the pre-revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara as he wandered around South America didn't appeal to me, and that's not because I have anything against Communists. But it was a rainy day, and my girlfriend's a big fan of the film's star Gael García Bernal, so I finally caved in.
The Motorcycle Diaries is a loving account, based on Guevara's actual diaries, of a road trip he took while a young medical student, accompanied by his fun-loving comrade Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna). As he witnesses the poverty and social injustices that fill the lives of the working poor in Argentina, Chile and Peru, we watch the birth of an idealistic and charismatic young revolutionary who truly believed that Communism was the way to unite the working class across all of South and Latin America... until he was later betrayed and murdered, of course, but that part of the story is not in the movie.
While Diaries is well-made, and you can't beat that breathtaking South American scenery, it's little more than a hagiography of the fallen Communist leader, one that depicts him as almost Christ-like, seemingly devoid of any bad qualities whatsoever. I might have forgiven this had it been a gritty little film made by working class South American filmmakers – in which case the nostalgia for Che's broken dream would have been bittersweet. But this is a slick epic, funded by a lot of rich white US independent film producers. In fact, isn't that Robert Redford listed among them? Yep, and this is why The Motorcycle Diaries seems like ready-made Sundance Festival fodder: because it is ready-made Sundance Festival fodder.
In short, the film is well-meaning and sort of ambitious, but it's ultimately one-sided, pandering, and inconsequential. I would have liked to have seen something meatier about Guevara's life, and it doesn't help the film's cause that that the once-strong Communist alliance has long since degraded into a scattering of dirt-poor dictatorships and iffy post-Soviet market economies, only serving as a pathetic reminder of the failure of Guevara's great mission. With history on the audience's side, who can really find inspiration in this man's story?