Under Review: ‘Last Best Chance’


It’s a wonder any laws get passed in this country.

The Northwest Film Center in Portland, Ore., has been showcasing a series on Human Rights this fall. Playing Wednesday, Oct. 2, is a well-done documentary entitled “Last Best Chance.” It begins with John McCain reading an account of a death from dehydration in the Mexican dessert.

Early on McCain and Sen. Edward Kennedy co-sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Then McCain ran for president and conservatives protested the proposed legislation. McCain dropped his sponsorship.

The rest of the story is documented in this gentle chronicle of the death of Kennedy’s dream for immigration reform.

Muted, soft voices alternate the narration. Gentle music leads the viewer through the hectic pace of Capital Hill politics. Like a funeral dirge, the film ebbs as the bill gets into trouble.

The film gives a keen slice of Kennedy’s savvy and dedication to those unprotected. His sense of humor at meetings, his oratorical brilliance and the mutual love between him and his staff blaze off the screen. This film reports the battles against race and class distinctions frustratingly woven throughout the amendments tacked to the bill. Hispanic Senator Mendoza from New Jersey cannot be convinced the ending bill is anything but xenophobic.

Before a last unsuccessful vote, Kennedy portends that why great countries fail is because they are unable to deal with the great problems facing them.

“Last Best Chance” is the 12th in a series entitled “How Democracy Words Now.” Though obviously in favor of the Democratic voice in the immigration bill, this film project has received funding from The MacArthur Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The Open Society Institute, the Sundance Institute and other non-affiliated groups.

The only problem with “Last Best Chance,” this last entry in the sequence, is that it ends too soon. There is no epilogue, no written or spoken comment on the final immigration bill that is finally passed, and no word on Kennedy’s death.

However, “Last Best Chance” does show the traveling path of a bill in a system the viewer may come to regard as incredibly dishonest, corrupt and self-serving. Perhaps the real issue of this film is not to tout Kennedy, learn about Mexican immigration issues or even learn about the Immigration Reform Bill. Perhaps a more subversive role of this film is to show the problems that have occurred in the evolved nature of writing, introducing and campaigning for worthy and needed reforms. Without a doubt, this film shows how hard it might be to pass anything on Capitol Hill.


Directors: Michael Camerni and Sharon Robertson
Country: U.S.
Released: 2010
Genre: Documentary
Runtime: 100 minutes

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2 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. William Sterr #

    Kudos on your review!

    My spouse and I had an opportunity to watch this movie at the Portland Art Museum (we were two in an audience of no more than 10).

    I have never been a fan of the Kennedy clan, having considered John and Bobby to be manipulative opportunists (especially Bobby) whose foremost allegiance was to themselves. But Ted, for whatever reason, was cut from a different bolt. A Kennedy above.

    This film showed us the excruciating process that is our government today. It is a small miracle that anything comes out of Congress, and one can only wonder at the good that never materializes, as well as the horrendous that we are spared. But that is the nature of trying to govern 300+ million people with 290 million not caring until something hits them in the wallet, the belly or the genitals.

    Documentaries like this open a window on the process – too bad no one is watching.

    Just as Kennedy wondered – as you succinctly point out – how a great country can continue, failing to deal with existential problems; I have wondered for years, when will the final straw fall that breaks our collective back?

  2. Bev #

    Have you wondered, from time to time since Viet Nam, that that collective back is already broken and just being propped up by steal pins and fused discs?

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