"The Motorcycle Diaries" is the latest effort from director Walter Salles, whose "Central Station" I found touching a couple years ago. "Diaries" is a larger effort, however, and a very interesting one. The picture takes a look at famed revolutionary Che Guevera (Gael García Bernal of "Y Tu Mama Tambien") - but not when he was older. Instead, the picture starts earlier on, when he was in his early 20's. Alongside his friend Alberto Granada (Rodrigo de la Serna), he decides to take a major journey that will lead him across the continent of South America, where they will eventually end up performing a medical residency at a leper colony.
The two med students originally start off on a crappy motorcycle, which doesn't exactly stand up terribly well to the journey. The two start to find that the trip is going to be a lot longer, more difficult, more costly and eventually, more enlightening than they'd expected. The two encounter many people along the way, and the episodes are saddening, emotional and involving. While the two eventually saw the journey as a fun ride, they end up learning a great deal about the state of their country.
The film offers two fine performances in Bernal and La Serna, who make convincing friends, even with their occasional fights and opposing viewpoints. The scenery, captured by cinematographer Eric Gautier, is often breathtaking. As a travelogue and a fairly decent character study, the film succeeds. That's kind of the problem, though: despite very good performances and a pretty interesting story, I never felt like I learned as much as I'd like to have about either character. Although the film never really drags, at 127 minutes, there were a few points where the journey started to feel a tad long. Overall, "Motorcycle Diaries" was a gorgeous, fairly satisfying "road trip" flick, but I wish I'd learned more from it.
VIDEO: "The Motorcycle Diaries" is presented by Universal in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. With the aid of cinematographer Eric Gautier, director Salles' film presents some truly spectacular scenery. The image quality of this transfer is generally pretty good, and sometimes great. Sharpness and detail are generally above-par, as the picture appeared usually crisp and well-defined. Some wide shots could look a little soft, but most scenes boasted good fine detail and clarity.
Some problems were noticed, but they didn't take away from the image quality too considerably. Mild edge enhancement was spotted in a couple of scenes, but no pixelation or print flaws were spotted. Colors remained rich and natural, with very nice saturation.
SOUND: "The Motorcycle Diaries" is presented by Universal in Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish w/English subtitles.) The film's audio is fairly low-key, as the surrounds are only employed lightly and briefly for some ambience. Otherwise, the audio remains pretty dialogue-driven. Audio quality seemed fine, with clear dialogue, sound effects and score.
EXTRAS: A lengthy and rather irritating Focus Features promo comes before the main menu - and it can't be skipped past with the remote. The extras are made up of an assortment of featurettes, starting off with a pretty solid 22-minute "making of". The piece starts off rather promotional and unpromising, but gets better, with informative interviews and nice behind-the-scenes clips. There's also several minutes worth of deleted scenes, the "A Moment with Alberto Granado" featurette, two interview pieces with Bernal, a piece on the composer's work and bios.
Final Thoughts: "Diaries" offers beautiful imagery and fine performances. It's worthwhile viewing, but I wish it was a bit more eventful and more informative about its subject. Universal's DVD edition offers fine audio/video quality and a few minor, enjoyable supplements. A definite rental recommendation.
The Film ***