“Cesar Chavez could best be compared to the kind of movie you watch in history class in the magical alternate universe where you’ve progressed far enough in your history class to make it up to the 1960s.”
by Ken B.
Here is a movie that goes in one ear and right out the other. This is a shame, because it really shouldn’t. This is a biopic, and there are a couple of objectives it should achieve: The first is to entertain, and Cesar Chavez, for the most part, does well in keeping your attention for 102 minutes. The second objective is to inform. Ooh. The main problem with Cesar Chavez is that its approach – the film is nearly entirely focused on Chavez’ most famous achievement, which is of course founding the United Farm Workers in 1962 and the subsequent Delano grape strike, where immigrant workers protested for better wages. If you know nothing about Chavez, you will learn about the biggest part of his legacy, but have no clue of the context or the proceeding or following events. If you are more learned on the man, there isn’t much here you didn’t already know. Who was this movie made for?
Michael Peña gives a great performance in the titular role, resonant with an understated power. He’s not an outlier – the rest of the cast is full of lots of serviceable acting, from America Ferrera as Helen Chavez to John Malkovich as the owner of the vineyard. Diego Luna is a capable director. Production qualities are credible all down the board. The only problem is the movie’s approach in general. Not only does it occupy a kind of odd middle ground of the kind of audience it’s aiming for, it seemingly lives in constant fear of daring creep into a deeper, more thorough image of its subject. Everything’s a little too snappy, a little too clean, and a little too matter-of-fact. Truth be told, Cesar Chavez could best be compared to the kind of movie you watch in history class in the magical alternate universe where you’ve progressed far enough in your history class to make it up to the 1960s before the end of the year. That’s not a slight against Chavez or history classes, but simply a comment on the lack of potency or memorability in this film. For all of its qualities, it just doesn’t connect.
DIRECTED BY DIEGO LUNA STARRING MICHAEL PEÑA, AMERICA FERRERA, AND JOHN MALKOVICH 102 MINUTES RATED PG-13