GOING UPRIVER….Based on Andrew Tobias’ enthusiastic recommendation, I went out this afternoon to see Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry. He was right: it’s a helluva good film.

Director George Butler describes himself as a close friend of Kerry’s, and it shows in the film. It’s also what gives the film its strength: Butler has known (and filmed) Kerry for a very long time and has an intimate knowledge of Kerry that few can match. This is a story he knows how to tell.

By now I’m pretty familiar with Kerry’s career, but even so I took a couple of new things away from the film. The first was a recognition that Kerry was a leader of the antiwar movement in the most genuine possible sense. Sure, he’s the guy who gave speeches and appeared on TV, but he was also the guy who held people together, who kept tempers in check, who boosted morale when times were tough, who never gave up, and who figured out how to get things done. He didn’t bully and he didn’t yell, but he earned genuine respect from an astonishingly wide variety of people ? in exactly the same way a successful president needs to do.

Second, although the film made it clear that Kerry had his eye on public office very early, it also made clear that leading an antiwar group was a huge risk to that ambition. Far from being a steppingstone, it was something likely to prevent him from gaining office (as in fact it initially did). Kerry did what he did out of genuine conviction and he did it despite the risks ? and that’s something a successful president needs to be willing to do too.

Going Upriver is a film worth seeing on its own merits, but it’s also a film worth inviting some undecided friends to see with you. If you know people who are increasingly nervous about Bush but not quite convinced they can vote for Kerry, invite them out for a night at the movies. This one might seal the deal.

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