(Yancey Arias, Wes Bentley, Maynor Alvarado, et al / DVD / PG-13 / 2014 / Lionsgate)
Overview: Chronicling the birth of a modern American movement, Cesar Chavez tells the story of the famed civil rights leader and labor organizer torn between his duties as a husband and father and his commitment to securing a living wage for farm workers.
DVD Verdict: We live on the edge of a time when mass movements could once again become decisive. Cesar Chaves, Diego Luna's latest film, reminds us that heart is what empowers people to overcome injustice.
Luna has picked a fabulous cast and a respectable script that brings to life the immense story of a very intense struggle to give farmworkers the basic right to organize. Filmed where the real events took place, Luna captures the stark,windswept and washed out beauty of the vast Southern San Joaquin Valley. He shows us the faces of the people who toil so that we might live. Through a strong performance by John Malkovich, Luna captures the patriarchal mentality that allows one to exploit others to build wealth. This sparks outrage and one is moved to identify with the Chaves and the small brave band that he led.
Michael Pena as Chaves is believable and endearing because the methodical, measured intensity of the man comes through and when moments of rage and deep emotion well up in his character the contrast is riveting. You understand why people followed. But it is the women that I found most interesting, particularly America Ferrera as Helen Fabela Chaves. And without Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawsom) he could not have succeeded. She was the more politically adept. It was the women in his life that empowered him to be great.
The film is not flawless and the 101 minute running time is the key problem. The story is simply too big given the number of compelling characters and the complexities of the real events. I longed to understand more about his son, his brother, the growers, Huerta and Helen. I would have appreciated seeing more of the power struggles among leaders, which must exist within any movement.
But overall, I am pleased that Luna, his cast and crew respectably brought to the cinema this very American story that helps me to remember why I love this country. Social movements do make progress despite darker forces because valiant hearts bonded by the vision of a better world do not give up. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.