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Movie review: 'Cesar Chavez' captures the myth, not the man

Published March 28, 2014 3:19 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The biographical drama "Cesar Chavez" is oddly bloodless in its depiction of a historical figure with such a rich life.

The movie starts in 1962, when Chavez (Michael Peña) relocated his wife, Helen (America Ferrera), and their eight kids to Delano, in central California, to try to organize the migrant farmworkers to join the United Farm Workers. Facing harsh opposition from grape growers who control the sheriff and courts, Chavez urges peaceful conflict — even fasting for 25 days for penance when picketers resort to violence.

Actor-turned-director Diego Luna dutifully re-enacts key moments from the UFW's battle, such as Robert Kennedy's visit to Delano, while painting the growers (embodied by John Malkovich) and their political cronies as cardboard villains.

Peña gives the role some soul, particularly in tender scenes with Ferrera or showing Chavez's troubled relationship with his oldest son (Eli Vargas). But the movie is more interested in inspirational myth-building than exploring the man himself.

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'Cesar Chavez'

Opens Friday, March 28, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas; rated PG-13 for some violence and language; 101 minutes.