From Pantelion Films, the studio behind the blockbuster crossover hit Instructions Not Included, and directed by Diego Luna (Abel) from a screenplay by Keir Pearson and Timothy J. Sexton and story by Keir Pearson, Cesar Chavez tells the story of a man who inspired millions of Americans from all walks of life to fight for social justice. His triumphant journey began in Delano, California, and led him across the United States and to Europe where he tirelessly fought for reform. Cesar Chavez chronicles this incredible story and is a remarkable testament to the power of one individual's ability to change the world.
I would like to think that most people would know who Cesar Chavez was, but that's not the case. I'm sure some of you have learned about this man in school, in the newspapers, online, or by your city recently renaming a street or highway after Chavez, but I'm willing to bet the bulk of you couldn't tell me what he is famous for or what he did with his life. Chavez can be compared to Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, or any other of the civil right's activists of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. But why do we instantly know the histories and stories of King and Parks and not of Chavez.
It may be because our schools haven't spent a good amount of time discussing Chavez in relation to others, or it may be that Chavez was associated with a small group of people, rather than a whole nation. But no matter how big or small his cause was, it affected an entire world and he made very big changes in the civil rights movement. And this is the first time we have seen a story on Cesar Chavez on film. Sure we could have read numerous news articles, essays, or seen interviews with Chavez, but his family and estate has not sold the rights to his life and story to anyone up until a few years ago, where actor/director Diego Luna and writer Keir Pearson set out to make a narrative biopic film on Cesar Chavez.
After some re-writes, and the greenlight from Chavez's family and estate, casting began, and now we have a film. Despite having the oscar winning writer Keir Pearson (Hotel Rwanda), the film itself is not a success, which is unfortunate, because Chavez is a very worthy subject to have an epic film made about him. Instead, there is a sloppy undertaking to this project, as it throws us into the middle of Chavez's life with very little information given on his background or life. The filmmakers assume that we know all there is to know about Chavez and his accomplishments, as we move in and out of debates, archival footage of the real politics and Chavez himself with only little screen time for his co-stars, all of which were integral to this story. If we were given even a little time as to tell Chavez's backstory, this biopic would have been a lot better. In case you don't know, Cesar Chavez was a grape farmer in California back more than 50 years ago.
In fact, he was a migrant farm worker, meaning he had the legal papers to be in the U.S. to work as a farmer under big farm corporations. However, conditions for the many migrant farm workers were atrocious. They were often beaten, paid very little, forced to work too many hours without breaks, and told if they didn't abide by any of these harsh and cruel rules, they would be sent back to Mexico. So Chavez (Michael Pena) decided to form a union for the migrant farm workers, which of course was met with extreme violence and opposition for many years by the bosses of the farming corporations. But Chavez's approach was stern but always non-violent, as he staged sit-ins, protests, and he even went on a three week hunger strike that almost killed him. His unwillingness to back down from the big corporations and approach to make sure that every migrant worker had decent and fair working conditions sparked a movement that would eventually make the world a better place.
But dealing with this movie itself, we move to fast between several key events in Chavez's life to really care or engage with anything that is happening. One minute we will see Chavez fighting and debating with Bogdanovich Senior (John Malkovich), a cartoonish evil man who is in charge of one of the farming corporations, and the next minute, the two will be sitting next to each other, agreeing and signing papers. Or in a fairly emotional scene where we have Chavez about to pass away from his hunger strike, we then immediately see him back to normal health and ready to take on the world again. It just didn't have a good flow to it.
Then out of nowhere, the beautiful Rosario Dawson shows up as Dolores Huerta, who was just as instrumental in setting up the migrant farmers union as Chavez was, but her character is only given a few minutes of screen time that never has anything important or substantial to say. It was quite a let down. As far as Chavez's family life goes, his wife Helen (America Ferrera) takes a backseat as well, and only one of his kids is given a spotlight here, as Cesar tries to be a family man and the leader of a big movement. As we see, Chavez's only big motive and goal is to see that every migrant worker is treated fairly, and his family is put second.
I'm not saying Cesar is a bad man. On the contrary, he is a very good family man, but one of the side angles of the story is to show how his wife and family supported him even though he wasn't around much. Pena does an incredible job as Cesar and you can tell he took the time to study the real man. Everyone else does a decent job, but the script always holds them back, whether it be because of poor dialogue or that the bad guys of the film were to cartoonishly evil.
Cesar Chavez the man was an epic man who did indeed change the world and brought a spotlight to the world so they could see how poorly these people were being treated. But 'Cesar Chavez' the film only shows snippets of this great man's life and his history, and assumes we know everything going into the film, which is just not the case. I hope and am sure there will be plenty of more attempts to tell Chavez's life story in a more clear and cohesive way.
'Cesar Chavez' comes with a decent 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. This film actually looks like it was mad on actual film stock and digitally, which is a sight for sore eyes these days. I say this because the overall image does not have a digital or very clean look to it. Instead, it's quite grainy and soft throughout with moments of fuzziness. But that gives the image it's spectacular filmic image, and makes us feel right in the center of this turbulent time.
Some of the detail looks vivid here and there, especially during the well lit closeup scenes, but even then, there is a good layer of grain over the image. The colors all look good and all seem to have a yellowish glow to them. I wouldn't say any of the colors pop off screen, but they definitely look good. Black levels look deep and inky and the skin tones look natural overall. There are some instances where some archival footage is shown, where all sorts of problems persist such as banding, ghosting, and video noise. But during the rest of the film, those problems are non-existent. Despite the softness and flat look to the film, this video presentation is quite nice.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix surprisingly has a good immersive sound to it. This is mostly a dialogue drive movie, which the dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand, free of any pops, cracks, and hissing. The surrounds get some work when either a few gunshots fire off or their are heated debates throughout the film.
The ambient noises of people chattering, nature and city sounds, as well as cars driving by, all sound natural and loud. The dynamic range is wide and the LFE is very good here. The score sounds great here too and always adds to the tone of the film while never drowning out any of the dialogue or sound effects. This audio presentation won't win any awards, but it gets the job done.
The Making of 'Cesar Chavez' (HD, 20 mins.) - This is a better look than the usual promo reel stuff from a movie, which has cast and crew interviews and scenes from the film film spliced in. If you're a fan of the film, you'll want to take a look at this.
The actors in the film do a great job with their characters here, and the story is a great one, but it's one that a lot of people don't know too much about. And we are thrown into the middle of the story here and miss out on a comprehensive background of our title character. 'Cesar Chavez' is a good film with decent audio and video presentations. But with only one okay extra, I'm not sure it's worthy of a purchase. I would rent this one first before purchasing.