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Cesar Chavez

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // PG-13 // July 22, 2014
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted July 24, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Cesar Chavez Blu-ray Review

Cesar Chavez is a dramatic film about a significant leader in American history: the real-life Cesar Chavez who helped to lead over 50,000 farm workers in California to fight for better working conditions, better pay, and rights. During the 1960's and 1970's Chavez played an important role in a lot of workers' rights reforms and made a impact still important to this modern time (even if things are not always perfect to this day).  These American citizens immigrated from Mexico hoping for a better and brighter future and faced unfair wages alongside farming employers who cared more about the many millions in higher profits. Empowering and encouraging to these hardworking citizens, Chavez made a difference undeniably relevant to countless lives.   

The story of Chavez still feels relevant to this day. Amidst more discussions and efforts nationwide towards determining new minimum wage guidelines and current labor work problems, it's important for this film to serve as a reminder of the power of peaceful and determined protests and the strength of human beings working together with one mission.  Important films of this nature are important to produce and share with the world. It's quite difficult to comprehend that this is the first feature film made about Cesar Chavez, but it's a blessing that one has finally been made.

Immigrant farmer workers struggled just to be paid fairly for a day's work. Despite pulling the food and helping with intensive labor that feeds Americans, these American workers faced an injustice in the system where they struggled to put food on the table for their own families. A worker would help to feed other families - and not even be paid enough to be able to for their own family. The story of these workers, who organized and protested peacefully to make the point in a courageous way is another reason why this story is so essential. The story of these hardworking laborers and their peaceful protests needed to be told on film.

Actor turned director Diego Luna is a far more skilled filmmaker than one might imagine. It's only the actor's second film behind-the-scenes as director (the first being the acclaimed Abel which was released in 2010).  Having seen Luna in many films in smaller roles, I've always enjoyed the efforts of this great performer but was genuinely pleased and amazed with the impressive skills he demonstrated as a director with Cesar Chavez. One could easily think something of this caliber was not made by a second-time director but by someone with an extensive directing background. It's a joy to see how Diego's own determination to tell this important story has resulted in one of the most notable films of the year.

The film's screenplay was written by Academy Award nominee Keir Pearson (Hotel Rwanda) and Timothy J. Sexton (Children of Men, Walkout, Live from Baghdad). The script was well researched and includes a lot of material drawn from interactions with the Chavez family. It's certainly a film that focuses more on the positive than the negative. The film is about things important to the human soul: hope and belief in something better - the ability to go beyond something and to find a peace and tranquility within life. This is an American dream and something that clearly Chavez believed in. The script touches on these ideas with skill. It certainly felt like one of the most well-written scripts of the year, and I think the writers successfully found a good balance between dramatizing events and working as a history discussion and lesson.

The film's primary goal is showcasing the journey of Chavez (Michael Pena) and those around him and why fighting for these undervalued and hardworking immigrants was so important. The story showcases the hardworking nature of Chavez, his determination to organize, and the help of Helen (America Ferrera), Chavez's equally determined wife and partner in the movement. Helen had a great impact on the journey and helped to raise their eight children almost on her own amidst her own the dedication to the movement. Everything was complex for the Chavez family, including a hunger strike done during the workers strikes by Cesar Chavez for weeks until he was barely alive. These moments are brought to dramatic life with the remarkable performances by the actors, who seem to so envelop these characters that the film's rich storytelling is strengthened significantly.  Pena sinks into the role and through his great performance feels almost unrecognizable. Ferrera delivers one of her best performances; delivering heart and style to her role.

Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson) also was a huge part of the movement in helping to create the United Farm Workers alongside Chavez and the film explores her integral part in the creation of the unionization. The film also wisely emphasizes the roles of the "Big Business" employers who made millions from hardworking laborers working for their company. The performance given by John Malkovich as Bogdanovich Senior as one such company man was also remarkable and did add to the effectiveness of the filmmaking.

One underlining element within the script examines the distance and complicated relationship with one of Chavez's older sons, who Chavez hardly sees during his time spent focusing on organizing and planning for the farm workers. This part of the story is a harsh reality of the effects sometimes felt from dedicating oneself to something so fully. The script is wise to emphasizes in one of the final scenes how Chavez was fighting not just for the workers: everything he did was also done for his son and family -- it was a fight for their futures.

In all areas of the production, Cesar Chavez manages to impress. The cinematography by Enrique Chediak (127 Hours, The Faculty) offers an effective feeling of the dusty sands California is host to. The grittiness of the environment is realized within a documentary approach: everything in this film has an element to it that feels documentarian with the photography playing a big role in the dramatic storytelling. The music by Michael Brook effectively blends seamlessly into the film and helps to tell this incredible story. There are several important aspects of the production and each seems to complement the others in a convincing and effective way.

Cesar Chavez is one of the most inspiring movies of the year and it's a film that should be seen by Americans working in a variety of different fields. This film is an important history lesson and as a reminder everyone could stand to learn by: about the importance of peaceful protests, fair worker wages, and the power of a collective dream. Chavez was an inspiration to so many people and this wonderfully orchestrated feature film will inspire audiences with its meaningful story.

The DVD:


Cesar Chavez arrives on Blu-ray with a high quality MPEG-4 AVC encoded image in 1080p High Definition. The beautifully effective cinematography by Enrique Chediak is stellar and receives a good presentation on this release. The filmic quality inherent in the film's style is wonderfully reproduced. There is strong detail and little in the way of artifacts. Occasional minor softness and minor source related issues for archival footage are the main drawbacks on this edition. This is certainly a worthwhile presentation for this quality film.


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround sound is quite strong. Directionality is good and detail is clean and clear for this film -- the use of surrounds is effective and envelops the story with some occasionally notable added emphasis. Much of the film is dialogue driven, which is something this presentation excels at reproducing quite well.

English SDH and Spanish subtitles are provided.


The Making Of Cesar Chavez Featurette (19 min.) is a 1080p high definition making of piece about the film, which features both interviews and production clips.

Final Thoughts:

Like many biopics,  Cesar Chavez utilized both archival newsreel footage and the dramatization of events to great effect. These moments strengthen the storytelling and performances with great skill. Michael Pena is remarkable in the role of Cesar Chavez. Performances were notable and skilled from everyone involved. This intelligent biopic dramatizes events in a way that is effective from start to finish.

Cesar Chavez impresses as an inspirational and emotionally powerful motion-picture. It is one of the best films of the entire year and one that should be seen by history students, workers, and just about anyone looking for a quality dramatized history lesson with an inspirational story which is still remarkably relevant to our time.

Highly Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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Highly Recommended

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