on July 16, 2011
An illegal immigrant is raising his son in California, working as a day laborer. He buys a work truck, which is stolen from him. His dream of a better life for him and his boy are in danger unless he can get the truck back. This is a film that portrays a realistic view of life for people living in the U. S. without legal status and the pitfalls of living in a place where you have no legal rights. There is no preachy liberal immigrant-rights content here, but just a dramatic example of what many in this country experience on a daily basis. There is solid acting throughout, as this one is very well-done, and hopefully will find an audience.
on September 23, 2011
"A Better Life" is a poignant story about the struggle of an honest, profoundly decent man to survive as an illegal alien in LA. Utterly devoid of political posturing and moralizing, the film deals instead with the universal human yearning for security, stability, and at least some degree of happiness in one's life.
Completely devoted to his teenage son Luis (José Julián), Carlos Galindo (Demian Bichir) maintains his humanity and dignity in the face of greed, deception, and cruelty. The inescapable precariousness of his situation underscores the futility of Carlos' efforts to better the life of his son as well as to improve his own condition. The dream of owning a business, moving to a better neighborhood, and giving his son a good education remains just that - a dream. In the end, an illegal, Carlos submits himself to the law and accepts its harsh verdict of deportation only to attempt to cross the border again, this time to reunite with his son.
The film probably will not change anyone's views on immigration policy in this country, but it cannot leave any thinking person unmoved.
A few months back (well, it's been a while now), our local Independent Theater was playing a special showing of `A Better Life' and so my wife and I snuck away from the kids to indulge in one of our favorite pastimes; movies. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I had read good ink on Demian Bichir's performance and so I was excited to see what all the hype was about.
Wow; he was outstanding.
The film centers around an illegal immigrant named Carlos, working as a gardener in LA. He came to America with his wife and young son hoping to make a better life for them. Years later, he is raising his now teenage son alone, and his life really isn't that much better. He works hard, day in and day out, but he isn't making much headway. When a business opportunity presents itself, Carlos is hesitant to embrace it, but with a push from his sister he takes the leap, hoping that the payoff will be grand. In the meantime, his son is being persuaded by schoolmates to join a gang, and his growing frustration with his own situation is making him question his own loyalty to his father.
Sadly, `A Better Life' works better on paper than it does on film. When Bichir is not on the screen, the film falters; especially because the depiction of the gang and Carlos's son's friends are pretty clichéd and poorly acted. It takes you out of the gritty realism that Bichir brings to his role and his scenes. It felt like two separate films conflicting with one another; which is semi-understandable considering that Carlos and his son live in two separate worlds, but the cohesion needed to meld these two worlds together was missing. Bichir is remarkable though; a slow burning performance that grows in intensity but contains so much subtlety. His final scene with his son left me a puddle of tears. It was superbly played and possibly one of the single most moving scenes I've seen in all cinema this year.
I would recommend this film. It tells a beautiful story of one man's drive to help better his son's life. It doesn't work as a whole as well as I wanted it to, for it does in moments seem too simply crafted, but simple can be rewarding when it is done right; and there are many moments in `A Better Life' that are certainly done VERY right.
A BETTER LIFE is one of the more understated films to come out of Hollywood, a film that has the courage to tell a story that is so politically charged - the immigration debate - that releasing it now is on the one hand asking for negative responses and on the other hand offers to the public the real truths behind our quandary about immigration. This country consists of immigrants - all of us - no matter how far back we have to trace our ancestry: the only people who did not begin their family history as immigrants from every country in the world and the Native Americans, and look how we are treating them! If this film does nothing else than plead the case of human understanding it will have accomplished more than legions of films that touch this subject too lightly.
Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir, in an extraordinarily fine performance) crossed the border into the US with his new wife, looking for a way to improve his life. Upon arriving his wife gave birth to their son Luis (José Julián) and then promptly left Carlos in search of a better life, leaving Carlos to raise Luis alone. Carlos is an honest, caring man who must live in the shadow of being illegal: he cannot have a driver's license or papers that allow him the benefits of other people. Carlos has a steady job as a gardener with Blasco (Joaquín Cosio) who owns a truck and the two men work hard as gardeners.
When the film opens Carlos is saving is money from working with Blasco, living in a tiny house in the smarmy side of Los Angeles, trying to provide better schooling for his 15 year old Luis. Luis is of the age when he is easily influenced by his peers: his best friend is Ramon (Gabriel Chavarria) who is waiting to be of age to join the gang and forget about school in lieu of making money and living high. Luis is tempted to follow him, but he still attends school despite frequent absences and disinterest in education. Carlos is faced with a dilemma: Blasco wants to leave the business of gardening and suggests Carlos buy his truck and tools and start his own business. While Carlos sees the future in owning his own business (he can provide hope for a better life for Luis) he doesn't have enough money saved to buy the truck. His sister, indebted to Carlos for his protection and help, brings him her savings and Carlos buys the truck. Luis is surprised and then proud of his father's courage, but the happiness is short lived as one of the day laborers Carlos befriended - Santiago (Carlos Linares) - steals the truck, sells it on the black market and sends the money to his family in Mexico. It is this moment that provides an important turn for the relationship between Carlos and Luis. Luis bonds with his father and together they manage to locate the truck and take it back, only to be caught by the police for driving without a windshield. Carlos is jailed, Luis is devastated, but as Carlos is deported Luis pleads with him to 'come back home'. The film's ending tests the credibility a bit but it is heartwarming nevertheless.
The story as written by Eric Eason and Roger L. Simon is genuinely real and never veers toward the maudlin. They have created characters who not only demonstrate the importance of father son understanding and relationships, but they have approached the entire gamut of immigrant challenges and the manner in which this country deals with current immigrants in an honest manner. Without waving banners for or against immigration problems director Chris Weitz offers us the opportunity to see life from a different angle. One of the reasons this movie is so powerful in its impact and message is due to the brilliant performance by Demián Bichir, hopefully a candidate for an Oscar, and his performance is beautifully balanced by that of José Julián as his son. The film is scored by Alexandre Desplat and the music greatly enhances the rhythms of the story. There is such worth in this film that it would be wise for everyone in this country to view it - and remember our individual heritages and histories. Grady Harp, October 11
on March 1, 2012
I enjoyed the movie from beginning to end. As a immigrant and mostly as Mexican, it has been great to see that the world knows about us and that we feel more valuable. We had came here to the United States from generation to generation and we are growing in a big way. I feel so proud that my daughter is able to speak English and Spanish and that she is part of the present and future of this country. There are all these feeling that this movie provoke within me. I am sooo proud of Demian Vichir in this movie and I know that he is going to win an Oscar one day and that he is a great roll model for my daughter. I am proud of myself becuase is been hard to learn English, most of all because I was 26 when I came to the States but it is really rewarding that I can teach Spanish to my daughter and she can teach me English as she normally says.
This movie may not have received enough attention because of its theme: a father, an illegal immigrant, struggling for a better life for himself and his son. But there isn't a political agenda here, no message that illegal immigration is "right" or "wrong." The film simply and poignantly portrays one family's experiences. The real surprise is how deftly this is done when it could have been a sloppy or heavy handed movie.
Carlos, the Mexican father living illegally in Los Angeles, has a stoic integrity and determination. His son Luis gives meaning to his life. Unfortunately, Luis is full of mixed emotions with anger often winning out. Should he join a gang? Give up hope that things will get better? Reject his father's "old-fashioned" values?
The varied characters gave the movie a special intensity for me. The movie doesn't pull any punches or give in to easy solutions or try to hit viewers over the head with a particular point of view. The director ( Chris Weitz) is savvy enough to let events unfold naturally, showing Carlos at work, Luis dealing with tensions at school and home, father and son struggling to understand each other.
There is also a pivotal event which creates dramatic tension but to mention details would ruin this movie for viewers. How that moment is handled helps define the father/son connection. While I still consider the film well worth seeing, I was a bit disappointed in the abrupt ending and would have liked to see more about how things unfolded. But that is truly a tiny thing for an otherwise superbly done film.
on February 29, 2012
I had not heard of this movie until I watched the Academy Awards. I love Demian Bichir (Esteban on Weeds)and was thrilled when I learned he was lead in this movie. It is a heart wrenching story about an illegal immigrant worker trying to make a better life for his son and lead by example. Most of the movie is in English and when not- it is in subtitles, so don't be turned off by that. It is truly a must see and will give you a different outlook on people and their personal struggles!!!
This is one of those movies er sorry `films' that should have reached a much wider audience. It tells the story of an illegal immigrant from Mexico to East L.A. called Carlos Galindo (Demian Bichir), he has sold his labour for a few dollars to give his son the chances that he never had. Only problem is that he is an illegal and so therefore works for a pittance and that means he can only live on the wrong side of town. This means his only son Luis has to go to East Los Angeles High School for Gang members etc. A place where having `twatoos', (as I call them), is de rigueur. Luis though seems to try to avoid all of that but it is nigh on impossible to not get swept up in that sub culture.
Meanwhile Carlos's boss, who he gardens for, is leaving and offers to sell him his truck and therefore the gardening business. He asks his hard pressed sister for a loan and decides that this is his big chance to really change things through honest hard work. Luis has been spending his time being suspended from school and or watching MTV shoeing programmes of `cribs' of Gangsta rappers and the juxtaposition with their one bedroom pit could not be more stark. This new venture though seems to make him take note.
This film by director Chris Weitz is an understated gem. He also gets all of his actors to do all of the stunts thus to keep the realism there and avoid stunt doubles. He also does all the stunts first himself to prove they can be done. He takes us on a tour of life as an underclass and how it is such people who are the unseen and unappreciated workers in the background that do so many of the jobs no-one else wants. That is not paraded for anyone though it is simply laid out for you to judge (unlike Loach's `Bread and Roses' for example).
Whilst this is a story of struggle and bad breaks it still maintains a kind of forlorn hope that things can get better and that is one of its main strengths. It is a well made acted and shot piece of cinema and I think deserved a lot more plaudits than it has ever received. Whilst not world cinema it is dealing with global issues, as seen through the microcosm or lens of a father and son and how they cope with the lot that life has dealt the. Touching, moving and a great film all round.
on April 7, 2014
I have always felt that our neighbors in Mexico only strived for a better life. This movie is a prime example of a father wanting a good life for his son. It's heartbreaking and also the story of many immigrants into this country.
on February 8, 2016
I found this movie to be very touching and inspiring. Highly recommend. Really opened my heart to have more empathy and compassion for the immigrants trying to better their lives, the hardship that they endure and the sacrifices they make so their children will have better lives.