Cesar Chavez

Good old-fashioned agitprop, this heartfelt biopic of the labor-rights leader succeeds in valorizing Chavez while also honoring the countless migrant workers who powered his grassroots movement. Screenwriters Timothy J. Sexton and Keir Pearson seem to have studied Salt of the Earth (1954) for their portrait of collective action; the film effectively dramatizes the challenges of organizing large-scale protests as well as the surge of communal feeling that such endeavors inspire. Befitting the collectivist theme, the cast (which includes Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera, John Ortiz, and John Malkovich) is uniformly modest, never distracting from the historic subject matter; Michael Peña is particularly impressive in the lead, resisting the obvious temptation to make Chavez larger than life. Diego Luna, a fine actor himself, directed, grounding the story in earthy, authentic-seeming detail. In English and subtitled Spanish.