Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez

In Theatres: 
Mar 28, 2014
Running Time: 
1 Hour, 41 Minutes

Despite a valiant effort by Luna and his crew, Cesar Chavez is a bland and disorganized look into the monumental achievements of one man and his people.

This isn't going to be easy.

In the massive farm fields of California, thousands of people are underpaid and unappreciated by the farmers. No one had the bravery to stand up to them. No one until Cesar Chavez (Michael Pena). Dedicated to help correct this unjust movement, Chavez organizes a non-violent strike with his Hispanic brothers and sisters, much to the dismay of Bogdanovich Sr (John Malkovich), a resident farmer whose wine development is greatly affected by this. The farmers begin by fighting back, enlisting help from workers across the border who will have no issue with their pay. Cesar worries that his brothers and sisters in the movement are resorting to violence and thus begins fasting in protest. Until the entire movement signs a non-violence agreement, Cesar refuses his body any food.

Chronicling his life and his achievements in Civil Rights, Cesar Chavez attempts to bring the power and emotion of his movement. Unfortunately, despite Diego Luna's good work behind the camera, Chavez doesn't hold together enough to appropriately convey the piece of history he created. The main reason that the emotions don't stick is because a subplot to this movement is the dysfunctional relationship between Chavez and his oldest son, Fernando. His relationship with his son is directly affected by his careless act of caring more about his people than his family. I'm sure what was intended was to show the difficulties between balancing a family and a civil rights movement but what is shown onscreen is Chavez' neglect to his family. In the beginning, we are introduced to Cesar, his wife Helen (America Ferrera) and their eight (!) children. After a scene of the family moving into a small house, we do not see the other 7 children again, assuming that they just found a good hiding spot in the tiny 2 bedroom house they live in. Not only does Cesar ignore his children, but it seems that the camera is more focused on the achievements he would create later down the road. In another scene, Cesar is packing up to leave for a protest and directly decides not to listen to Helen's request to talk to their son before he leaves. Even when Fernando gets in a fight, Cesar's reaction is nothing compared to when one of his people in the Union decide to get violent. I'm sure the intention was to see how difficult it was to balance being a father and husband in the trying times of running a movement but it comes across as utter disinterest and ignorance rather than being conflicted.

The most difficult of this issue with the film is that most everyone involved seems to really give it all they have. Pena is enjoyable as Cesar and often brings home the heart of a peaceful man wanting more for his people. Ferrera gives a moving performance as a wife who may have found the balance that Cesar needed all along, even though that connection is never made in the film's runtime. I would say Malkovich did great work if he wasn't just playing John Malkovich not wanting his wine sales unaffected. Rosario Dawson plays Dolores Huerta, who is given a very strange tone and hint at an undeveloped interest in Cesar. Dolores works alongside Cesar but is often seen as the woman by his side instead of Helen, who is heavily active in the movement. It's a strange connection that is hinted at but never fleshed out.

As his second feature film, Cesar Chavez is a perfectly fine looking film for director Diego Luna. He knows how to capture talent and knows when to pull back, but something didn't relate how it should have between the writing and the portrayal of a conflicted father. It's a difficult message to bring across but one has to ask if it should have been attempted if their were any doubts of how it connected to audiences. Chavez only runs 104 minutes, but the flawed portrayal of Cesar and Fernando causes seconds to feel like minutes, making the film seem bloated, doing it no favors.

You can tell that everyone behind and in front of the screen believed in what Cesar did for Civil Rights, but too many issues with flawed connections cause Cesar Chavez as a film to feel disorganized and bland. In fact, if Luna were to release an edited version that cut out the scenes between Chavez and Fernando, the film might help make it a great look into what it takes to change history. As it stands, Cesar Chavez is destined for nothing more than a Friday afternoon movie for History classes.

Ryan Sterritt
Review by Ryan Sterritt
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