(R) 4 starsEd Johnson-Ott
OK, let's get this part over with. Yes, The Motorcycle Diaries is the one with Che Guevera, based on the same-titled book by Ernesto Che Guevera and the book With Che Through Latin America by Alberto Granado. Now that you know, I suggest that, to best enjoy the film, you forget about Che and savor the film as a heartfelt feature about friendship, suffering, joy, injustice and ideals that feels so real you almost believe you are watching a documentary. I mean, isn't that enough? Oh, and the scenery, which is shot in an incidental style as opposed to the TA-DA approach employed in most films, is gorgeous. Set in 1952, the Kerouac-reminiscent road movie follows Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (Gael Garcia Bernal of Y Tu Mama Tambien), a solemn 23-year-old medical student, and his laid-back pal, 29-year-old biochemist Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De La Serna) as they hop on a beat-up Norton 500 (that's a motorcycle, for those of you as vehicularly-indifferent as me) and set off to traverse South America before they turn 30. Their journey will take them from Buenos Aires through Chile, across the Andes and into the Peruvian Amazon.
And it will change them. When they leave, their goal is simple: to find adventure and have sex with as many lovely young women as possible. Indeed, they do find adventure and even have a sexual liaison or two along the way, but the trip turns into something more as they meet the people of the great continent, as they see their struggle, their plights.
I hope that last sentence didn't scare you. Rest assured that, while the film deals with some heavy topics, the tone is not grim. The Motorcycle Diaries is a rich, satisfying film that celebrates the human spirit without getting all Hallmark-ish. The stellar acting, screenplay, score, camerawork and editing combine to give the film an almost documentary-level sense of realism. It's one of the best movies I've seen this year.