Based on the true story of Ernesto Guevara (known to many as Che), "The Motorcycle Diaries" is a beautifully-shot and well-acted film that somehow did not get nominated for Best Foreign Picture.
Gael Garcia Bernal, probably the most recognized Latino actor in the States today (he seems to be the star of just about every Spanish-language film that actually sees a respectable release in the U.S.), stars as Ernesto in the time before he became the Cuban revolutionist. Joined at his side in an almost equal part is Rodrigo De la Serna, who plays Alberto Granado, the man who accompanied Ernesto on his trip across Latin America. Though for the longest time I thought "The Motorcycle Diaries" was a documentary about bikers (honestly), the poorly-titled film, which is based on the journal of the same name written by Che and another journal of a different name by Granado, chronicles the adventures of the two young men as they travel from their home in Argentina through various other countries, interested in seeing the world, having fun and meeting chicks. But what begins as a simple journey on a motorcycle turns into a compelling story of self-discovery, one that would eventually lead Ernesto to embrace the poor people and fight in their defense. However, the movie never explores the more notable points of Che's history, but rather just the events that led up to his legend.
As mentioned in the first paragraph, "The Motorcycle Diaries" benefits from two things: a beautiful look and two great actors. Bernal and De la Serna have great chemistry together and work off one another to deliver two terrific characters. Bernal is very good, but De la Serna is the one who really stands out, perhaps because he's the less recognizable of the two and was such a pleasant surprise. The two actors, as they edge their characters closer and closer to a more serious and mature realization of the world, are embraced by the beautiful scenery and film work that make the movie what it is. The movie doesn't rely on the scenery to wow the audience, but some of the shots are amazing nonetheless.
That being said, "The Motorcycle Diaries" did not meet my expectations. For the last six months, it has been hyped as an amazing film, and while it is really good, it isn't the extraordinary masterpiece so many people have claimed it to be. The characters are believable and their road trip has a very realistic, down-to-earth feel about it, but it lacked the powerful emotions I was expecting. It is emotional and at times powerful, but I was expecting more; in the end, it is merely a road trip story with more serious elements, but not the fully fleshed tale of a revolutionary I was expecting. Knowing nothing about Che (he was a bit before my time), I was hoping for a little more insight into his reasons for becoming who he became. "The Motorcycle Diaries" does show the early stages of his transformation as the last half of the film is devoted to depicting the poor and Ernesto's reaction to them, but when the film ended I really didn't get the sense that this man was going to go on to fight with Fidel Castro and end up dying a violent death in Vallegrande.
"The Motorcycle Diaries" is a good film and the two actors deliver their characters to perfection, but I needed the story to go on beyond the end of the road trip and show me something more. "The Motorcycle Diaries" is an effective film, but it seems like a prequel that doesn't end convincingly.
For the fans of the movie, the DVD is now available in stores and it comes with a few slightly-interesting special features. The deleted scenes are the most worthwhile of the bunch, especially one that shows Felix the crazy blind driver almost taking his truck off the side of a cliff. A "Making Of" featurette is a fairly promotional supplement that relies heavily on footage of the film, but does contain a few interesting interviews with the cast and crew. Two television interviews with Gael Garcia Bernal are included as well, but they will probably only appeal to Bernal fans in general (hence 90% females). An interview with the composer is another mildly interesting featurette, considering that the music is an important part of the movie, but most intriguing is an interview with the real Alberto Granada, who now lives in Havana. All in all, the DVD is okay, but maybe will make for a better rental than a purchase.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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