Failing to capitalize on rife dramatic content, this biopic simply isn’t good.
Despite a more-than-capable cast. In Crash (2004) and End of Watch (2012), Michael Pena (Cesar) has previously proven his hefty dramatic skill, but here the material gives him little opportunity to shine. He manages to be charismatic despite the film’s failings, but can do nothing more to save the project.
America Ferrera (Helen Chavez), Rosario Dawson (Dolores Huerta) and John Malkovich (Bogdanovich Senior) are also wasted, indeed even more than Pena.
Every actor in the film is hurt by under-characterization. Here the characters, even Cesar, are thin sketches, not vibrantly complex. We see what they do, but we never understand who they are.
Somehow the growers, including Malkovich’s Bogdanovich, are, in fact, less well developed than the previous bullet might suggest. The bosses aren’t sketches; they’re archetypes, stereotypes, iniquitous villains.
Moreover, we don’t entirely understand Cesar’s efforts to establish a farmworkers’ union. Director Diego Luna and writers Keir Pearson and Timothy Sexton never immerse in their story, but rather present a basic checklist of key historical moments. Consider when Cesar goes to England. He arrives. Then, almost instantly, we hear a radio interview accompanying a montage of his European successes. We do not actually see him securing any partnerships; he just gets them, almost by magic.
It is a trend that plaques Cesar Chavez. The plot is boilerplate, at best, and trite, at worst.
Moreover, the picture is devoid of emotion. Cesar’s troubled relationship with his eldest son, Fernando (Eli Vargas), for example, never resonates, probably because the scenes don’t go far enough to show flaws in the titular character.
Even Cesar’s twenty-five day hunger strike, which ought to have been nerve racking, fails to register.
What is a film with poorly developed characters, a bland plot and zero emotion to do?