Although English director George Butler has stated that he doesn't intend his latest documentary to be political propaganda, it's nearly impossible not to view Going Upriver as a persuasive advertisement for the moral and intellectual fiber of John Kerry. Given the emotional thrust of the movie--it documents Kerry's metamorphosis from brave soldier to forthright activist--Kerry inevitably emerges as the very man needed to lead America. Told via news footage from the Vietnam War, old film clips of heart-tugging speeches, and chilling photographs, the film lays out a chronology for Kerry's transformation--and, ultimately, takes measure of his moral depth.
Butler is not a prolific director, but he has a keen eye for picking out stories and characters before they even happen. His first and most famous film, Pumping Iron, watched as Arnold Schwarzenegger defended his 1975 Mr. Universe title against a young and shy Lou Ferrigno. That film helped catapult both men into the mainstream.
Likewise, Going Upriver captures the moments and events that served as Kerry's running leap into politics. Butler began collecting the film clips and photographs in 1969, convinced even then that Kerry would step forward as an important American leader. Seeing the story in its entirety--in what amounts to Kerry's preface to public life--offers profound insights to his character.
What emerges is that Kerry's motivation appears completely void of any professional ambitions, and might very well be fueled simply by his personal and moral conviction that in 1969, the country was hell-bent on destruction. The parallels between then and now are readily apparent, and similarly constant is Going Upriver's portrayal of Kerry. For those who are voting for Kerry simply because he isn't George Bush, Going Upriver is a salient and stirring argument that Kerry has the goods to be a forceful and thoughtful leader.