Based on the best-selling book Tour of Duty, Going Upriver is a documentary on presidential candidate John Kerry. The film particularly focuses on Kerry’s time in the Vietnam War, how it subsequently affects him, and his eventual leadership and involvement in the national veterans’ association Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW).

Directed by George Butler (best known for Pumping Iron, featuring Arnold Schwartzenegger), the film first appears to be political propaganda for the democratic candidate. Propaganda or not, the film quickly engages the viewer in a very personal story.

The film begins with old photos and clips of Kerry’s upbringing in a politically active family, and his eventual admittance to Yale University in the ’60s as an optimistic youth. While there, Kerry is convinced his leadership is needed in Vietnam but, like many others, he patriotically joins without any idea of the reality of war.

Believing the ideal that the U.S. troops were there to "save" the Vietnamese from communism, Kerry soon realizes this idea was one not shared by the Vietnamese. Witnessing senseless bombings of civilian villages along with the killing of his best friend, Kerry begins to question the war. He comes to believe that the war he has been fighting has a questionable goal, coming at the high price of thousands of lost lives.

When Kerry returns home, he chooses to involve himself in the VVAW. He participates in the Winter Soldier Investigation, helping vets come forth to tell their horrifying war stories, collectively making a strong case to bring U.S. troops home. Kerry then helps organize "Dewey Canyon III," a five-day-long peaceful protest by the VVAM, with many senators and congressman coming to join their forces. At the film’s climax, a 27-year-old Kerry is shown testifying in front of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to a packed house, making an eloquent, impassioned speech to end the Vietnam War.

Despite the upcoming election, Going Upriver is an engaging film that tells the story of one man’s bravery and triumph. Director Butler weaves historic footage and interview clips of Vietnam veterans, family members and even old Yale roommates to create insight into John Kerry that many haven’t seen before. The film also includes music from R.E.M., John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.

Grade: A