Ghe title of Errol Morris’s The Fog of War could easily refer to this pre-election season crowded with anti-Bush polemics, where one is virtually indistinguishable from the next. It’s as if every filmmaker on the planet has conspired to get Dubya out of office by releasing one low-cal doc per week until Election Day. The latest is George Butler’s Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, a classy “fuck you” to the frat boy mentality behind ads that shamelessly accuse John Kerry of feigning war injuries and ratting out comrades by bringing to the attention of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee atrocities committed by soldiers during the war in Vietnam. Butler competently mixes archival footage with talking heads from the present (mostly friends and acquaintances of Kerry), and though the project is ostensibly about the presidential hopeful, Going Upriver really concerns all soldiers who returned from Vietnam only to discover that their nation had failed them. Some of the most powerful sequences in the film are shots from the Winter Soldier Hearing, where Kerry was indoctrinated into the anti-war effort and where men tearfully came to grips with the horrors they committed abroad. Equally powerful is a study of the day when many Vietnam Veterans Against the War threw away their medals—as painful as lobbing off a piece of their hearts and minds, Butler acknowledges these soldiers’ gestures as rituals of moral and spiritual healing. George W. Bush is never mentioned in the film, but it’s obvious from Going Upriver‘s metaphoric title that the journey made by Kerry and many Americans after Vietnam continues today. If Vietnam is to Iraq, then Richard Nixon is to George W. Bush, and John O’Neill—the snake behind the Swift Boat Vote Veterans for Truth ads and the man Nixon pit against Kerry in 1971—is to, say, Zell Miller. Anyone familiar with Nixon’s opinion of Kerry or anyone who has seen Kerry’s speech before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee may find some if not all of Going Upriver redundant, but it doesn’t make it any less effective as an argument for an idea that continues to elude our current president: that it’s possible to be anti-war and still love one’s country.
- 92 min
- George Butler
- Joseph Dorman
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