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Film review: ‘Cesar Chavez’ is a shallow biopic

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Michael Peña stars as the title character in Diego Luna’s Cesar Chavez.

Two and a half stars

Cesar Chavez Michael Peña, America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson. Directed by Diego Luna. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

Although it avoids the cradle-to-grave pitfalls of many biopics of historical figures, Diego Luna’s Cesar Chavez still comes off mostly like a sketch of the civil rights leader and union pioneer, giving a basic sense of his accomplishments but never really delving into who he was as a person. Luna and screenwriters Keir Pearson and Timothy J. Sexton focus on the time that Chavez (Michael Peña) spent organizing farm workers in central California in the late 1960s, and while narrowing the story to just a few years does help give it clarity, leaving out Chavez’s early life makes him come off as more of a symbol than a person. The supporting cast, including America Ferrera as Chavez’s steadfast wife, Rosario Dawson as a fellow union organizer and John Malkovich as the heartless corporate titan resistant to change, is strong, but their characters are just as one-dimensional. Cesar Chavez is a decent history lesson, but it’s not much of a drama.

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