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Watching George Butler's riveting documentary about John Kerry's tour of duty in Vietnam is an ineffably sad but ultimately inspiring viewing experience. Using archival photos, super 8 film and television video footage from the Vietnam War era, director Butler weaves a tale of one man's heroic journey into a real life Heart of Darkness more immediate and powerful than anything Francis Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" was able to muster. Beginning with his student days at Yale, John Kerry possessed qualities of leadership that belied most young men of his generation. His heroic actions in Vietnam are amply described by fellow comrades-in-arms, one of whom gives an electrifying account of his rescue by Kerry under the most perilous conditions imaginable.
The most revelatory part of this movie deals with Kerry's homecoming. Vietnam veterans were not greeted with a hero's welcome; in most cases the public treated returning soldiers with indifference, even revulsion. John Kerry's compassion and fortitude in working toward giving his fellow soldiers a place of dignity in a cold and uncaring world is heroic beyond measure. GOING UPRIVER has been described by some as one long campaign add for a presidential candidate. That may be so, but if this movie is a shameless plug for electing Kerry to the Presidency, it is also a heartrending social commentary of a time that is inexorably fading into a distant American past. That past , in order to be kept alive, needs movies such as GOING UPRIVER to remind American citizens that the foibles of war repeat themselves unto the next generation. The young, eloquent John Kerry speaking on behalf of his fellow veterans is an unforgettable image. GOING UPRIVER is a mourning for the past as well as an alarum for the future.
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