Review Date: 10.06.04
biopic "Motorcycle Diaries" and the documentary "Going
Upriver" have at least one thing in common. Each tells
the story of a man in his twenties who would later become an
important political figure on the world scene.
"Motorcycle Diaries" is part travelogue, part road
trip, part buddy flick. It stars the compelling Gael Garcia
Bernal as young Ernesto Guevara. Guevara is just a year or so
shy of completing his medical studies when he and an older pal
resurrect an ancient motorcycle and take an 8,000 mile journey
around South America. Along the way, Ernesto picks up the nickname
Che. And he keeps a diary, which became the basis for the script.
The actors are fine and the landscapes are breathtaking. And
if the writing in the movie diary is verbatim Che, then he was
a stirring wordsmith, a poet, even. And certainly, one of the
most adulated revolutionaries in modern history is an exciting
subject for a film.
But theres something missing from this gentle drama. Im
not quite sure what it is. Maybe its that its a
dramaless drama. Because the fact is, not much really happens
in this film.
I can see that the director, Walter Salles, intends the quietness.
We are, I think, to understand that revolutionary commitment
need not necessarily require a series of violent confrontations.
The slow cataloguing of injustices can have the same effect
on a sensitive soul. It shouldnt bother me, I suppose,
that Salles deliberately withholds a defining moment. But the
closest we come to excitement is a nighttime swim across a narrow
stretch of the Amazon. Will the asthmatic Che make it to the
far shore before he runs out of breath or is attacked by piranhas?
Youll have to find out for yourself.
I dont want to discourage you from seeing it. The preponderance
of critical opinion is that "Motorcycle Diaries" is
a fine film. But I doubt Ill go back to find out why.
Thats not the case with "Going Upriver". Ive
seen this one twice, and would see it again. "Going Upriver"
is painful to watch. Its billed as the story of the young
John Kerry, (which it is) but its as much a retelling
of Americas war against the Vietnamese, and of the founding
of Vietnam Vets Against The War.
For anyone who came of age during that senseless and despicable
war, this will be a powerful flashback. Each time I watched
it I was moved to tears. And would be again, Im sure.
With restraint, good taste, and terrific editing, Director George
Butler, takes us through the period of Kerrys time in
Vietnam as the skipper of a Swift boat, his return home and
subsequent disillusionment with that conflict, and his involvement
with and leadership role in Vietnam Vets Against The War.
Voiceovers against a backdrop of old newsreels and stills tell
Max Cleland tells us: Wars are not over when the shooting stops.
They live on in the lives of those who fought the war. Whether
its WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Somalia, Iraq,
Afghanistan war changes people.
It forever changed John Kerry. Yes, "Going Upriver"
IS a biased film, but an intelligent viewer can comb that from
the movie and still be left with an important document. Santayanas
admonition concerning historical amnesia remains apt for our
times. Dont miss this film. Consider it a civic duty.