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Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry
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by Robert Flaxman

"A powerful film that's a lot more than mere hero worship."
5 stars

Things are getting pretty nasty this election year. It's easy to see why. Liberals hate conservatives, and conservatives hate liberals. The makers of Going Upriver are clearly liberal, but even though their film plays indirectly into the hands of the liberal audience, its general demeanor is not at all partisan, and this only makes the film better.

Conservatives would have you believe that John Kerry is a traitor for speaking out against the Vietnam War. But then, it's hard for them to judge. Nearly every single conservative official and pundit who has spoken against Kerry never went to Vietnam, many actively seeking deferments, or receiving Air National Guard duty on which they proceeded to skip out. And then there's the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an ironically named organization if ever there was one. Did you know that this vicious little 527 - which is totally not backed by the Bush administration in any way - is led by John O'Neill, the very same man hired to be Richard Nixon's attack dog against Kerry thirty years ago?

It's all coming together. Against that background, Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry forms a powerful portrait of how one man was shaped by his era, and how he became the leader he is today. Kerry's presidential platform needs fleshing out, but his character is unimpeachable, so much so that Nixon's boys couldn't dig up any dirt on him. That's why O'Neill was hired to make stuff up.

Kerry's character was initially forged by his diplomat father, but the film breezes past this to define the time in which that character was ultimately set - the late 1960s and early 1970s, otherwise known as the Vietnam era. A decorated veteran and leader among his crew, Kerry was one of many to have doubts about his orders in Vietnam, and spearheaded a movement to speak out upon his return. The common conservative line is that dissent in time of war gives comfort to the enemy, but Kerry had seen the enemy. He, like so many, knew that the Vietnamese were not going to break on the issue of independence. He doubted the domino theory. And he knew that American involvement was helping no one, least of all U.S. troops.

It's hard to miss the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, which is probably on the back of director George Butler's mind. Kerry went to Vietnam and voted for involvement in Iraq, but when later information showed this to have been a bad idea, he rallied to end the fight. (Kerry's current position involves staying in Iraq, but it's easy to understand his line of reasoning. The Vietnamese were fighting a civil war whether or not Americans were there. In Iraq, we created the war. We also created a power vacuum. Right now, stabilizing Iraq is the lesser of two evils. But it's our mistake for ever going in.)

Kerry may not seem as defiant in 2004 as he did thirty years ago, though he's certainly taking on the current establishment to a degree. The portrait in Going Upriver is of a man of solid conviction, one capable of being both a leader and a radical. The background depiction of the Vietnam era is, if anything, even stronger than the portrait of Kerry: mixing period footage with current interviews, Butler creates a pastiche of the time more emotional, powerful, and affecting than anything in Forrest Gump, a film which aimed for the heartstrings. This is a documentary.

Like so many other liberal-minded films this year, not enough people will see Going Upriver. It's not as entertaining as Fahrenheit 9/11, but it's at least as informative, and building up a positive image of Kerry is at least as important at this part of the election cycle as building a negative image of Bush. Another filmmaker might have relished contrasting the two, but for the most part, Butler isn't interested in playing partisan politics. Going Upriver may reinforce liberal support for Kerry, but it never tells anyone who to vote for. Butler just wants to show Kerry's strength, and he certainly does.

Informative, powerful, and compelling, Going Upriver is an excellent portrait of a fairly average young man's rise to greatness. The thought that this nation could well keep John Kerry out of the White House in favor of a man about whom a film like this could never be made is almost too much to bear.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10490&reviewer=385
originally posted: 10/09/04 18:10:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/25/04 DM Well-documented, informative, and relatively non-partisan 4 stars
10/21/04 Maureen Kerry is a man of genuine "Values" and has no reason to exploit the word. 5 stars
10/19/04 Joe Fellzer Total crap, less annoying than Michael Moore, Kerry's a hippie 1 stars
10/18/04 John well made and insightful....good luck Mr Kerry! we sure could use you! 5 stars
10/10/04 gray next cic 5 stars
10/09/04 Elaine Perrone Beautifully written review. Your last sentence says it all! 5 stars
10/09/04 Heather Totally relevant to today's situation in Iraq, a must see 5 stars
10/04/04 Ron Fehd This movie shows why I'm voting for the statesman John Kerry 5 stars
10/03/04 Ruby Malloy Well made by George Bulter 1 stars
9/15/04 Ernest Szoka Though provoking. A compelling story of John Kerry's fight to end the vietnam war. 5 stars
9/15/04 Kimberly Lawton Excellent movie, insightful and moving. The lessons of Vietnam must not be forgotten. 5 stars
9/12/04 Joe Bangert I'm in it, dude what a rush! I'm in the jeep dude. 5 stars
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  01-Oct-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Oct-2004



Directed by
  George Butler

Written by

  John Kerry

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