After the 2004 presidential election, political documentaries will hardly be treated the same again. While Going Upriver is a stirring account of a time in history that shaped a young man and his nation's future, there will be those that strike it down and disregard it as yet another partisan piece of propaganda. It's no surprise that George Butler's film holds a positive pro-John Kerry bias given their friendship over the years, but what separates this film is the undeniable subject matter that elevates it from just a campaign love letter flick. The rally organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War was a seminal moment in history whose story needed to be told. The fact that you see Kerry steering the movement with such graceful pause is telling of the man's character without the filmmakers having to resort to stiff-armed rhetoric. Those who weren't around during the time of the Foreign Relations Committee hearing are also in for a sobering stab of déjà vu that is both impossible to ignore and hard to shake -- as is the appearance of John O'Neill as Nixon's attack dog, considering his repeated attacks at Kerry during the campaign over 30 years later. Ultimately, what you take away from the film will depend on what you bring into it. And while it may be easy to write off some of the movie's gushing testimonials, historical footage does not lie (though it can be presented improperly). For all the political hubbub during its release, Going Upriver will live on as a testament to these vets as they were peacefully led through the heart of their government and given a rare chance to speak out against its leaders and the war they knew firsthand was wrong. Going Upriver is powerful filmmaking as seen through the eyes of an inspiring young man that made it happen.
by Jeremy Wheeler review