A Better Life Reviews
This subtle dramatic film is extremely powerful and moving. The sincere realistic tone the movie carries allows us to really understand the difficulties the characters go through and cheer for them to have a better life.
Carlos Galindo (Bichir) is an immigrant gardener in Los Angeles who searches for a better life for himself and his son who faces the difficulties and dilemma of entering a gang. The movie realistically portrays the troubles of Mexican immigrants in the United States, but most importantly show a legit love story between father and son.
This movie is wonderfully composed. Weitz uses his subtle and realistic tone to bring out a depressing yet beautiful story. Not only is the story and the style in which the movie is done brilliant. This movie has some of the most powerful performances of the year. Both Bichir and Julian are extraordinary. They develop complex characters and true chemistry, that as you follow these characters steps you hope just the best for them. The movie is composed with emotional scenes that are tear jerkers. In all honesty I felt the Academy Award made a big mistake by not giving Bichir an award.
This movie is great, beautiful and real, don't miss it. Warning! viewers might be exposed to extreme sadness.
Carlos Galindo: " That's why I had you. For me. For a reason to live."
"Every father wants more for his son."
Every good parent's dream is to give their kids what they didn't have, and to give them a chance at A Better Life. This is exactly what Carlos wants for his 14 year old son, Luis. Carlos has been struggling as an illegal immigrant gardener and has been raising his son by himself. They live in a less than stellar neighborhood, where gangs rule the streets. As Luis gets closer to joining, his father tries harder and harder to get them out of there. He buys the truck and tools from his previous employer in an attempt to make some real money. Things don't quite work out the way they are supposed to, but the father and son are brought together through the turmoil.
A Better Life is a great father/son relationship film. The film also defines what it means to be father. Being a father gives Carlos something to live for. Without his son, his life would be meaningless. Demian Bichir gives a really good, Oscar nominated, performance as Carlos. His performance isn't one of over the top anger or sadness, even when the events of his life should draw these emotions out of him. His performance is all on his body language, we can see the torment on his face and the sadness in his eyes. While his performance more than likely won't give him an Oscar, he definitely deserved the nomination.
Chris Weitz is proving to be a hard to judge filmmaker. He made his debut with the teenage comedy American Pie. He eventually made the great About a Boy, and then turned around a few year later and made Twilight: New Moon. Luckily, he bounced back from that embarrassment and made this devastating, but somehow uplifting film.
Immigration is a hot issue right now, and you would think since it such a big issue, Weitz would fall back on it more than he does. Sure the fact that Carlos has to deal with possibly getting deported every day of his life is mentioned, but Weitz is really telling a story about a father and son, and not about immigration. He just uses the immigration backdrop to make the story all the more powerful, and it really works.
This is a great movie that really flew under the radar this year. Hopefully Bichir's nomination will get some people to watch the film because it really deserves to be seen.
Regrettably, the plot is not the picture's strong suit. It tackles illegal immigration with a story arc that isn't particularly original. El Norte, Maria Full of Grace, Under the Same Moon, The Visitor, and Sin Nombre are just a few of the modern movies that have all addressed the subject with a bit more creativity. It's a well worn topic of late, but it's also material ripe for tragedy. Every one of those features is exceptional. Despite the formula, A Better Life is respectable enough to be mentioned in the same breath. True, the narrative has a tendency to lag in parts, especially in the beginning. But following a life changing hardship, the story takes off. The interaction with his young son produces several poignant moments.
The saga develops into a rather emotionally engaging account. Much of the recognition has to go to actor Demián Bichir who stars as Carlos Galindo, the father attempting to provide for his son. Already a star in his native Mexico, he is probably best known to American audiences for his recurring role as Esteban Reyes, the corrupt mayor of Tijuana, in the Showtime comedy series Weeds. His quietly affecting performance is heartfelt and sincere. It could have easily deteriorated into mawkish sentimentality. On the contrary, his portrayal seems to come form a very real place. It's a flawless depiction invested with honest emotion. I'd have to give him most of the credit for the film's power. He's outstanding.
I despise Oscar Bait; I really do. It's not fun watching filmmakers strip a film of all its artistry and thought-provoking attributes, actually, it ends up rather exhausting. Of course, there is good Oscar Bait ("The King's Speech"), but I still dislike the idea as a whole. If you don't even know what I'm on about and are scratching your head whenever I use the term, I'll fill you in; "Oscar Bait" is a term best used to define a film that tries to be overly provocative and different. Basically, it's crafted for the sake of Academy Awards nominations and pure indulgence. Sometimes, the Academy is blind; other times, they are not.
"A Better Life" certainly feels like it should be Oscar Bait, and given the premise and set-up, I expected nothing more or nothing less. However, I walked out pleasantly surprised; the film was not, in fact, intended as a cheap tear-jerker or an "inspiring" story. It was made with passion, in the caring hands of director Chris Weitz, who has just enough sympathy for his story and his characters to make the film work, in spite of the formulaic road that it consistently walks.
The film is a typical father-son-relationship story; almost completely without twists, but with a few carefully drawn out individual characters, all who make it worthy of a viewing. Both the father and the son are illegal immigrants living in America; the father, Carlos (Demian Bichir), works as a gardener while the son, Luis (Jose Julian), aspires to become a member in a local gang. Carlos dreams of starting their life off new; it's just them, in their world as they perceive it, after all. Luis's mother is not in the picture. So both characters must fend for themselves.
Carlos buys a truck from his employer. With that truck, with a certain amount of money to seal the deal, the father envisions moving out of the city so that he can give his kid a proper education, amongst equally as "proper" people. When Carlos has the truck, he is overjoyed, but in an instant, it is stolen by a fellow worker; prompting the father and son to embark on a journey that will inspire the rebirth of the bond that they once had. It ends on a typically tear-jerker note, with less emotional payoff than you may want or expect, but I have to say; it's so well-made and enjoyable, that it's easy to forget about that one large, crucial element.
Bichir plays Carlos perfectly. As a fatherly figure, he's what you'd expect; but the actor handles the role so, so well; I think if the film wins any awards, then that performance alone should be the thing that earns them. Jose Julian is also effective as the son, but given that he's a teenage boy, the screenwriters would've had to have taken an entirely different direction to make him interesting. Don't get me wrong, it's a good performance from a gifted young acting talent, but the character just didn't reach me, or strike me, as someone intellectual or worth liking immensely.
Still, this is an engaging film; from start-to-finish. I'd even say that for the third act, which is undeniably clumsy and clichéd, but at the end of the day, I still thought it worked. Hell, the entire film works; if that's the right word. It can't be called a mess, as it plays things straight, and for the same reasons, it cannot be called great. If it has one fatal flaw, it is the familiarity of the approach; which, mind you, is still a competent one. There were few problems I had with the film that Weitz has made, which is an all-together MUCH better one than his last project (which was the sequel to the first "Twilight" film). As far as qualities go, it has more positives than it does negatives. It's not for everyone, but it has a charm and appeal that will get it the audience that it deserves.
The filmmaker feels at home with this material, so it flows naturally enough to be effective, and the direction is just fine; but nothing groundbreaking. However, what more to expect from Weitz; the same man who brought us that fine Hugh Grant drama, "About a Boy"? There was nothing "special" about the direction there; it was all in the writing, the acting, and how both of those things mixed together to create something that felt, well, conclusive. The same could be said for "A Better Life", which isn't quite as good, but it's still a character-driven drama, and like the said earlier film, I'd even call it well written. In a world where just about every other drama is sappy, uninvolving, and unrealistically fictional in its exaggeration; here's the kind of drama that comes along, begs for attention, and if things go alright for it; that's exactly what it will get.
On the negative, I thought Jose Julian was miscast playing the son. I think another actor in that role would have done a better job. The pacing was also a little bit off. I also didn't like the ending. They should have kept the ending as open ended. They shouldn't have shown what happens four months later. Still the film is worth checking out, especially for Demian Bichir's performance.
The first point of the movie is good to have a fast and falls into the tedious. The script is okay and the acting is good: Demian Bichir does a performance worthy of its nomination to the Academy Awards.
The story is interesting and involves you're tuned to.
The only bad points are the performances of young and some dialogs.