George Butler's Going Upriver – The Long War Of John Kerry is a compelling and very well made film that brings to light many of the details of Kerry's past and service in Vietnam that many in the general population probably don't know about. While at this point in time, with the election out of the way and Bush in for four more years it may seem irrelevant at least from a political stand point, the film is never the less and engaging and thought provoking documentary on a man who really is a true patriot, despite what the Republican press machine would like us to believe.
Butler has a past with Kerry that stretches all the way back to 1969 and has known his subject long enough to provide a film that, while it may be slightly biased in it's pro stance, makes for an interesting look at the man's involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Through the use of a wealth of archival footage and interviews with those who served alongside Kerry in the way and who know him on a personal level, Butler paints a picture of a man who truly cares about the effects of a war under what may be less than noble pretenses. Contrasting this with the climate we all are having to live with now makes for an interesting comparison regardless of how you feel not only about the Vietnam War but about the current Iraq War as well.
Through the use of historical footage, Butler creates a sort of real life version of Apocalypse Now. This is accentuated by testimonials from his fellow soldiers who fought alongside him in this very misunderstood and confusing conflict. The film literally follows him 'upriver' and then from the jungles back to American soil where he and the rest of those who served were not greeted with the same sort of fanfare that their fathers were when they returned from the Second World War. From here we voyage alongside him to his anti war rallying, in hopes that America could learn from its mistakes.
Obviously, the film holds Kerry in very high regard. Released on DVD after a brief arthouse run, the film does at times play like a propaganda piece and it does only give one side to the story. This isn't a particularly balanced film – though that isn't to say that it isn't accurate. Those who lived them tell the stories and they do make for interesting moviemaking. The movie is quite effective as a time capsule though, reminding us that we can't forget what happened back in the sixties in much the same way that we'll probably be unable to forget what's happened over the last few years here at home and in the Middle East.
Not surprisingly, this documentary is comprised of a wealth of archival footage from the 1960s that looks a little worse for wear than the newer interview footage that was shot recently. Some of the television broadcast footage and wartime film footage used throughout is in pretty rough shape. The newer material looks great though, as it is nice and sharp and doesn't suffer from any really obvious problems aside from some minor edge enhancement. Colors are pretty solid throughout and the black levels are strong and stable. None of the archival material looks so bad as to render anything unwatchable, it merely looks like approximately forty year old news footage – which it is. The film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen 1.85.1 aspect ratio.
The English soundtrack is made available in a problem free Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. While this fills things out a little bit bouncing some sound effects and musical cues between the various speakers used in the typical home theater set up, we've basically got a track that relegates most of the action to the front and center channels. The film is almost entirely dialogue based and as such, this works just fine. Channel separation that does occur is pretty clean and distinct and the overall clarity of this mix is just fine, save for the occasional piece of vintage footage that shows its age a little bit with random instances of mild hiss.
Sadly, the only extra features on this DVD are a profile of the director in text format and a trailer for the film.
It was strange watching this film on election night and it's even stranger to be writing this review the day after when it's now obvious that Kerry didn't win. Regardless, Going Upriver remains an interesting look at one man's involvement in a tumultuous time in American history that is eerily reminiscent of the current state of international affair and the American military's subsequent involvement in them. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.