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'Cesar Chavez' review: Cesar Chavez Day film tribute

Michael Pena and director Diego Luna attend a showing of "Cesar Chavez."
Michael Pena and director Diego Luna attend a showing of "Cesar Chavez."
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Cesar Chavez


In honor of Cesar Chavez Day falling on Mar. 31, Diego Luna’s film about the remarkable activist was released the Friday before. An inspirational tale of a flawed man fighting for equality and fairness, “Cesar Chavez” is a pleasing tribute, but Luna needs more finesse behind the camera.

Covering approximately ten years of Chavez’s career, “Cesar Chavez” begins as Chavez (Michael Pena) decides to leave the office of the Community Service Organization to return to the fields filled by underpaid farm laborers in 1960. Motivating the workers, Chavez unites fellow Mexican-Americans and Filipino-Americans in demanding fair treatment and pay with the help of his wife Helen (America Ferrera) and co-worker Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson). Using strikes and boycotts as peaceful protest over multiple years, Chavez fights the company owners, led by Bogdanovich, Sr. (John Malkovich). His dedication to the cause, however, strains his relationship with his family, especially with son Fernando (Eli Vargas).

Cesar Chavez Day is recognized in only three states in the U.S., so Diego Luna’s tribute to a hero of the country is respectable. Unfortunately, “Cesar Chavez” needs some aid. Luna is still very new to directing, so the film suffers from a choppy narrative and uneven pacing. Its worst offense, however, is the lack of power; as Chavez fasts to inspire non-violent protests, his frailty and commitment do not come through, while his family troubles are only a glimpse in the narrative.

Though the film could use some improvement, “Cesar Chavez” does present an interesting story with a talented cast. A significant detail that much improves the perspective of the time is the inclusion of the changes of political support; at the death of Robert Kennedy (Jack Holmes), Chavez’s movement suffers a real loss. Holmes’ portrayal adds an incredible touch to the film. America Ferrera, too, greatly improves the movie.

The presentation does not delve deep enough to give life to the man. Instead, Chavez remains a figurehead of a movement instead of a man. Attempts are made to show that Chavez’s dedication to his cause is greater than his concern for his family, but the hurt felt by his family is glossed over. “Cesar Chavez” works to introduce the American hero, but it lacks grit.

Rating for “Cesar Chavez:” C

For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.

“Cesar Chavez” is playing in two theatres in Columbus: AMC Lennox and Easton. For showtimes, click here.