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Going Upriver - The Long War of John Kerry Reviews

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John B

Super Reviewer

January 20, 2010
One of those films that has a short shelf life. Interest in Kerry goes up in 2004 and disappears soon thereafter. I found it and it is pretty good biopic of a rapidly fading public figure.
July 10, 2007
A frustratingly underwhelming doc.
July 30, 2011
Really, John Kerry has such an interesting life. I only wish more people could appreciate this movie, since he has been so slandered over the past decade.
October 28, 2008
A thoroughly researched and documented biography of John Kerry as it relates to his heroic service in Vietnam and his subsequent opposition to its continuance. Lots of live footage of him and the people who knew or dealt with him along with archival film of both the events he attended and his statements at the time. Long clips, not just soundbites.
Carefully details both his commitment to his fellow soldiers and American ideals through organizing and supporting vets and then his reluctant parting with Veterans Against the War when government paid infiltrators started pushing them toward violence. A sad chapter in American History.

Shows Kerry as a man who steadfastly held to his principles regardless of the cost. An effective and essentially complete rebuke of the "Swift Boat" slander.
megan of suburbia
February 4, 2005
Director: George Butler
Starring: John Kerry (Archive footage), and many Vietnam Veterans

3 stars out of 4

I voted for Kerry, and after watching this, I definately feel justified in doing so. This is a quality documentary that competently shows the horror of war, and if it does its job (which I argue that it does), will make the viewer sick about our current one - as if we didn't have enough fuel for sickness as it is.
February 4, 2005
[b]DVD [/b]First Viewing, 1 Butler film seen

[i]Going Upriver [/i]is more of a failed presidential campaign than an actual documentary. It is a fine film and is perhaps just as hard-hitting as many of the recent anti-Bush films, but no one saw it. And of course you know Blockbuster isn't carrying it.
November 18, 2004
Nothing more than a full length infomerical for John Kerry. A total joke.
October 14, 2004
Back in his 20's, John Kerry was tall, handsome, charismatic, and eloquent. He's still quite tall. But back in his post-Vietnam days, before his face had fully elongated to its present freakish proportions, before his artificial smile had been frozen in place, before he became so incredibly, confusingly verbose, he was really quite an impressive young man.

This film, a documentary with a suitably wordy title, covers Kerry from his athletic youth to his service in Vietnam and on through his days as a war protester, when he helped organize the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. There's an incredible amount of early Kerry footage. Kerry playing pick-up football, sailing with John Kennedy, on the swift boat in Vietnam, interviewing veterans for the VVAW, leading a huge protest in Washington, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Apparently, the filmmaker has known Kerry for 40 years and has been filming him for 35. What amazing foresight. If someone were to someday decide to make a documentary about my life, I don't think there's even a single minute of film already in existence. Or at least I hope not.

Before seeing this movie, I really didn't know very much about John Kerry. I knew he wasn't George Bush and I knew I was going to vote for him and I knew he was so stiff on Letterman that he didn't even read the top 10 list properly. But after watching this film, 27-year-old John Kerry is my new hero. He fought in Vietnam, he witnessed atrocities, and he came home and tried to put an end to it.

In 1971, the relatively clean-cut Kerry organized a huge protest of scruffy, long-haired veterans who marched on Washington, camped out in front of Congress, and finally, at the end of the week, walked one by one to a microphone, said a few words, and tossed their hard-earned war medals over the fence. This isn't a "Cops"-like reenactment or a made-for-TV movie. This is real footage of real veterans who were so disgusted with the war that they were willing to throw away their precious Purple Hearts and Silver Stars to make a point. It's a very emotional segment.

As is the scene of Kerry's heartfelt testimony before Congress which included this somewhat famous excerpt: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" When he'd finished speaking, the crowd burst into wild applause. If this were fiction or even a docudrama, I'd think the scene was hokey and contrived. But this isn't a crowd of Hollywood extras chanting "Rudy" as the collective eyes of the audience mist over; this is real life.

If everyone in the country saw this film, I think Kerry would win by a landslide. But sad to say, when I saw it, I was the only person in the entire theatre. When I began this review, I gave this film a rating of 7, but as I wrote about it and thought about it more, I upped it to 8. I'm fascinated by the late 60's/early 70's protest-filled hippie days -- the music, the passion, the idea that it was possible to change the world -- and this movie clearly fits that bill. But beyond that, I tend to give higher ratings to films that make me feel something or inspire me or change me. And because of this film, I switched from being anti-Bush to being pro-Kerry.

Don't forget to vote.
October 10, 2004
It was to easy to forget what happened during the Vietnam War. This movie went beyond the politics of today and took me back to how it changed America and the men in it. At first we all supported the War as a way of spreading freedom throughout the world and as I went through middle school and high school the reasons became lost as the death toll rose and the boys from my high school started dying. Everyday the bloody scenes on the news changed us. It was the free fire zones where soldiers were ordered to kill everyone in them: Ask no questions and none were friendlies. It broke the men raised in America that were taught to respect life. Not all men fought in free fire zones, some are in denial, others feel betrayed that their secrets were revealed and this is part of what divides Vets today. Some harsh critics are just simply republican vets stormtrooping for Bush. The atrocities were the result of orders from the top. I blame the leaders. The atrocities are a proven fact. It was the courage of the kids who grew up in the shadow of this hell and the soldiers who lived through it and had the courage to face the truth and tell it, that ended that war. By the end my husband and my cousin Johnny, who played the guitar for me as a child, were lost forever to the ground. We as a generation went on to fight for women, racial equality and many of the freedoms that Americans enjoy today. Two of the lessons learned are: 1) Freedom and democracy in a nation comes only when the people are ready and fight for it themselves. 2) Outsiders will always be seen as invaders as the civilian death toll rises. Democracy can't be forced on others. By the end of the Vietnam War nearly 59,000 men died. And little advertised is that nearly as many have committed suicide since then. This is not because we protested the war it is because men were asked to do things that were against their moral values and human nature. It was to easy to forget what happened. If you're under 45 see this movie and don't let history repeat itself, if you're over 45 see this movie and remember why we have to be vigilant.
October 6, 2004
Even though the film itself makes no specific mention of anything in Kerry's life after 1974 or so, it really firmed up once and for all my decision to vote for the man. It's a documentary focused on facts, indirectly refuting the Swift Boat Veterans for "Truth," and a liberal's dream. I couldn't write the review without letting my bias move to the front. On the other hand, neither could Ebert. So:

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 [i]totally[/i] not backed by the Bush administration in [i]any[/i] 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, [i]Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry[/i] 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 [i]Going Upriver[/i] 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 [i]Forrest Gump[/i], a film which aimed for the heartstrings. This is a [i]documentary[/i].

Like so many other liberal-minded films this year, not enough people will see [i]Going Upriver[/i]. It's not as entertaining as [i]Fahrenheit 9/11[/i], 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. [i]Going Upriver[/i] 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, [i]Going Upriver[/i] 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.
October 4, 2004
[i]Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry[/i], loosely based on Douglas Brinkley?s [i]Tour of Duty[/i], is the latest in a series of political documentaries intended to educate, enlighten, and more importantly, impact the upcoming general election. Despite its unapologetically partisan, hagiographic approach, [i]Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry[/i] is an engaging, perceptive chronicle of the young John Kerry, Yale graduate, decorated Navy officer in the Vietnam War, and later, an outspoken anti-war critic. His later career, however, as a public prosecutor, Lt. Governor (Massachusetts), and twenty years of service in the United States Senate, is briefly covered in a series of stills unveiled in the end credits (presumably John Kerry?s subsequent years will be covered in a separate documentary if he?s elected president of the United States).

George Butler, a filmmaker with a distinguished career in directing documentaries (e.g., [i]Pumping Iron[/i] and [i] The Endurance: Shackleton?s Legendary Antarctic Expedition[/i]), became acquainted with John Kerry in 1969, and began to photograph Kerry as he become a vocal, eloquent critic of the Vietnam War and the public spokesman of the VVAW. Butler?s photography also covered Kerry?s later, unsuccessful campaigns for Congress, as well as more intimate moments with Kerry and his family and friends. Butler?s relationship with John Kerry grew into a long-term friendship, which allowed him access to Kerry?s private papers, letters, journals, and home movies. His resources extended to Kerry?s friends, ex-shipmates, and immediate family, but not to John Kerry himself, who?s noticeably absent from the documentary. Kerry?s decision not to be interviewed is left unexplained.

Through newsreel footage, archival film, home movies, black-and-white/color photographs, and interviews with friends, family, his former swift boat crew, and other anti-war activists, [i]Going Upriver[/i] explores John Kerry?s formative experiences, from his family background (via home movies), to his college attendance at Yale University, to volunteering for military service in the United States Navy, through two tours of duty (the second one shortened by his third Purple Heart), and later, to his growing involvement in the Vietnam Veterans Against War (VVAW) group as an organizer and public spokesman.

Not surprisingly, the young Kerry was interested in politics (his father was a diplomat), and in a political career (interviewed as an undergraduate at Yale, he speaks idealistically, if no less eloquently, about commitment and public service). Butler also acquired photographs and footage of Kerry during his military service in Vietnam, when he served as the commander of a swift boat in the Da Nang Province and later in the Mekong Delta. As the archival footage and interviews attest, swift boat duty was incredibly hazardous, with the swift boats subject to multiple, daily attacks from shore (with a 75% casualty rate). The swift boats themselves were lightly armed and lightly armored, originally intended for coastal duty, and not combat. Their orders were changed from coastal duty to service along the 5,000 miles of rivers inside the Mekong Delta. Their role was to explicitly draw fire from shore, and in turn, return fire, and where necessary, destroy the huts and boats that lined the shorelines. The swift boats rarely had air cover, and their noisy engines invited confrontation and arms fire. Kerry, along with other swift boat commanders, objected to the roles of the swift boats (as well as their potential, negative impact on the Vietnamese), without success. Butler covers Kerry?s heroism and bravery, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star (and three Purple Hearts), perfunctorily. Here, the contemporary evidence (i.e., naval records), underscored by present-day interviews, leaves little room for doubt or challenge.

Instead, Butler turns his focus to Kerry?s growing disillusionment, upon his return from Vietnam, with government policy toward Vietnam. Kerry?s anti-war views were hardened by his participation as an observer (and later moderator) in the Winter Soldier Investigation, held in Detroit, Michigan during January and February, 1971. Before cameras, journalists, and a public audience, 150 former Vietnam veterans, all honorably discharged, some highly decorated, recounted their wartime experiences, including their complicity in war crimes, either as direct participants or witnesses. For many, testifying before other veterans and an audience was a difficult, but cathartic experience. For Kerry, his experience as both moderator and witness led to a deeper involvement with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He played a significant role in organizing a weeklong demonstration and an illegal camp-in in April 1971 in Washington, D.C. This demonstration was generally known as the Dewey Canyon III demonstration, in reference to the then-contemporary invasion of Laos (the initial incursion into Laos in 1969 was commonly known as Dewey Canyon I). The goal of the organizers was to call attention to the experiences and opinions of the Vietnam veterans, and to call for an immediate end to the war through unilateral withdrawal of ground troops and an end to bombing.

The Dewey Canyon III demonstration was, to a large extent, unprecedented: a large-scale (over 1,100 veterans), mostly peaceful, act of civil disobedience during wartime. During the course of the week, the veterans visited Arlington Cemetery, met with Congressional representatives, and camped on the Capitol Mall without a legal permit. One hundred and ten veterans were arrested after a peaceful protest on the steps of the Supreme Court building. For John Kerry, Dewey Canyon III culminated in an impromptu testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the fourth day of the demonstration (at the invitation of Senator William F. Fulbright, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a longtime anti-war critic). For the other Vietnam War veterans, the demonstration culminated with a deeply symbolic expression of their overwhelming opposition to the war, the rejection of their medals and citations (the veterans threw their medals over a makeshift wall erected the previous night). Butler, however, leaves unanswered whether Kerry threw his own medals over the wall or, as he claims now, the medals of another veteran who couldn?t attend, as well as his own ribbons.

For Kerry, his role as organizer and public spokesman for the VVAW had taken him to the corridors of power and to public notoriety. [i]Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry[/i] concludes with Kerry?s interviews on nightly news and interview programs, including a now infamous joint interview with John O?Neill on [i]The Dick Cavett Show[/i], which sparked a heated debate about war crimes, extrication, and an end to the Vietnam War (Kerry favored immediate, unilateral withdrawal, O?Neill favored the Nixon/Kissinger approach of ?peace with honor?). O?Neill, another swift boat commander and, thus, Vietnam veteran, was handpicked by the Nixon White (specifically Charles Colson, one of Nixon?s aides known for his ?dirty tricks?) to front another veterans ?group,? the Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace, whose miniscule membership belied O?Neill?s public exposure. O?Neill, alas, recently resurfaced as the co-founder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth organization, O?Neill is also the co-writer of [i]Unfit to Command[/i], which purports to present evidence that John F. Kerry?s medals and awards were unjustly obtained (the claims in the book and made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group have since been debunked by first the blogosphere, then the alternative press, and finally the mainstream media, but not without cost to Kerry?s reputation and character).

[i]Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry[/i], if it has any flaws at all, is in the failure to present the more intimate, private side of John Kerry. Certainly, Butler attempts to ameliorate that objection by inserting still photographs of John Kerry at home or with his family throughout the film and the end credits, but that approach leaves the audience perpetually on the outside looking in. Perhaps Butler was only following John Kerry's preferences on this issue. Nevertheless, [i]Going Upriver[/i] offers a fascinating examination of John Kerry?s early (and continuing) commitment to public service and liberal ideals, despite the potential impact to his burgeoning political career (anti-war activism was, at the time, considered an obstacle to running for federal office, even at the congressional level). For that alone, [i]Going Upriver[/i] is worthwhile viewing, regardless of the results of the upcoming general election.
October 3, 2004
[FONT=Palatino Linotype][SIZE=4][COLOR=DarkSlateBlue]I went to this movie with my husband and 13 year old son hoping to learn something more about John Kerry. "Going Upriver" offered far more than I had hoped. Not only did we gain insights into the character of John Kerry, we learned about Vietnam and the anti-war movement in ways that the history books don't provide. At the end, my son turned to me and expressed his thanks for the opportunity to learn about what people mean when they talk about the Vietnam war. I also found the portions about John Kerry's heroics and John O'Neill's time as a Nixon-recruited character assassin particularly compelling in light of the recent antics of the "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth". Finally, the parallels between the Vietnam war and the Iraq war were striking. How ironic that the "Long War of John Kerry" would start in Vietnam and bring him to the point where he can actually challenge the current president about another questionable decision and execution of war. :fresh:
October 3, 2004
I was expecting a puff piece
to get Kerry elected.
Not at all.

Vividly captures the
mood of the '60's. You'll
get a real feel for what it
was like to be a vet in this
most horrific wartime.
October 3, 2004
I've been mostly motivated to vote against Bush, but this movie gave me reason to rethink my attitudes about John Kerry. It increased my respect for him. It reveals him as a sincere, honorable man with tremendous leadership abilities.
October 3, 2004
Out of the recent crop of political documentaries I've seen this one stands out, because it's relevance transcends the current political zeitgeist. The film is more concerned about the post vietnam treatment of veterans rather then idolizing John Kerry. All in all, it rekindles me to think the question: Why George Bush?
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