Cinema Review: Cesar Chavez | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, November 28th, 2023  

Cesar Chavez

Studio: Lionsgate
Directed by Diego Luna

Mar 28, 2014 Web Exclusive
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Michael Peña is Cesar Chavez, the labor and civil rights activist who organized farm workers in the 1960s and 70s. Working with a team that includes Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson), his wife Helen (America Ferrera), and other diehard supporters, Chavez unites Latino and Filipino farm laborers in a five-year strike against massive California vineyards in a drive to attain livable wages and fair working conditions. Self-made, wealthy wine-maker Bogdanovitch (John Malkovich) is the focus of Chavez’s campaign, which soon draws support from consumers across the country, foreign unions, and even political leaders such as Robert F. Kennedy. As Chavez struggles in his cause, he also faces the effects his efforts have on his family and their safety.

Chavez’s story is one of Sisyphean struggle, and director Diego Luna does a solid job conveying the monumental task the National Farm Workers Association faces. Chavez must contend not only with increasingly dangerous retaliations from the owners of the vineyards, but also with in-feuding within his union and the constant arrival of undocumented scab laborers from Mexico. Michael Peña – in the first major leading role of his impressive career – does a brilliant job showcasing the burdens, triumphs, stresses, and emotional havoc Chavez grapples with. He and Ferrera engage in endearing banter, which often supplies surprisingly witty laughs when needed most.

While compelling and stirring, Cesar Chavez assumes a level of understanding of the farm workers’ plight that many viewers might not have. Early voiceover provides some context for Chavez’s mission, but the filmmakers miss an opportunity to convey more of the struggles faced by the farm workers prior to Chavez’s leadership. At times, Luna and the writers seem concerned with including so many important moments throughout the strike that the weight of individual events is lessened. There is no denying that Chavez’s actions revolutionized and improved life for countless scores of impoverished Americans, and his story, told through Peña’s performance, is sure to move viewers. Cesar Chavez is perhaps an abridged history lesson, but given the amount of material it needed to convey, it does a commendable and stirring job.

Author rating: 6/10

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