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Bardem shines in wearying slog through a miserable life,
This review is from: Biutiful (DVD)
Movies can spark strong reactions. Sixteen Candles made me profess my love to my high school sweetheart. Swingers, years later, had me sprinting to the nearest club for a scotch. My coffee table still bears the scars inflicted after Inside Job. And Biutiful left me a weeping mess. After watching it, I spent fifteen minutes kissing the foreheads of my three sleeping children.
This gritty tale from Alejandro González Iñárritu about the final days of a minor league criminal named Uxbal (Javier Bardem, in an Oscar-nominated performance) finds moments of grace in a slog through life's unexpected miseries. Following a mystical opening set in a snowy forest, the film throws us into the protagonist's purgatory. Uxbal is not a bad guy. He arranges for illegal Chinese immigrants to work on construction sites and for illegal Senegalese immigrants to sell their black market wares. But he also makes sincere efforts to improve his exploitees' wretched existence.
Uxbal's personal life is no better. His wife Marambra (Marical Alvarez) is bipolar, which has made their marriage unendurable, and he has taken their two adorable children, Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib) and Mateo (Guillermo Estrella), but he is far from an ideal father, and he knows it. At the risk of overdoing it in the misery department, Biutiful piles on Uxbal with terminal cancer. In a more traditional film, Uxbal would set his kids on the path to happiness and prosperity, cure his wife's mental problems, and liberate his minions from their indentured servitude. While Uxbal takes steps to achieve those goals with the help of a trusted friend, Biutiful employs no clichéd Hollywood triumphs.
Bardem, who risked being forever typecast as a villain after No Country for Old Men, becomes Uxbal on screen; his haggard, handsome face sags after defeat compounds defeat. And he is granted only the briefest moments of peace. Shot with a handheld camera by Rodrigo Prieto in a Barcelona you won't see on the Travel Channel, Biutiful leaves the viewer spent, exhausted by Uxbal's struggle. Iñárritu has crafted an exquisitely sad movie, but for all its achievements the unrelenting misery of Biutiful dictates that the DVD will collect a lot of dust before it finds its way back into the player.
Extras include a making-of documentary, subtitles and a theatrical trailer.
Review originally appeared on MyDVDInsider.com.