Mark Reviews Movies

Cesar Chavez


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Diego Luna

Cast: Michael Peña, America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson, John Malkovich, Jacob Vargas, Yancey Arias, Wes Bentley, John Ortiz

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and language)

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 3/28/14

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Capsule review by Mark Dujsik | March 28, 2014

Here is a biographical movie that seems tailor-made to serve to fill a gap in a history teacher's lesson plan. Cesar Chavez doesn't challenge; it only confirms.

The movie confirms the nobility of its eponymous subject—a surprisingly thankless role played by Michael Peña—in all things, from the way he dedicates his life to trying to organize migrant farm workers into a union to fight for fair wages and better working conditions to how that dedication comes at the price of sacrificing a normal family life, which is also noble because it shows his rebellious son Fernando (Eli Vargas) what it means to be noble. It confirms that there was an organized strike against grape growers that began in 1965, resulted in a nationwide boycott, and, about five years later, led to a bargain that benefited thousands of workers. It confirms that deep down even the villains understand the problems but are only hindered by their interests. The villains here are represented by the owner of one of the vineyards, who is himself an immigrant and cannot tolerate the undercurrent of nationalist sentiment that runs through his colleagues' opposition to the workers' cause.

After establishing the background, Keir Pearson and Timothy J. Sexton's screenplay speeds through the highlights: the violence perpetrated by union busters and farm owners to intimidate the strikers, the ridiculous local ordinances passed to get them in jail (Yelling "strike" is fine, but utter it in Spanish, and it's a ride in the back of a police car), Robert F. Kennedy's (Jack Holmes) support of the workers, and, centrally, Chavez' hunger strike to try to convince the members of the union to pledge to non-violence. The movie rattles off events with no more context than what is necessary to understand the basics of what is happening while ensuring that every victory and each setback is announced as forcefully as possible.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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