A Better Life

An illegal immigrant in East Los Angeles struggles as a gardener while raising his son in an increasingly hostile environment. From that simple setup comes this well intentioned drama that is genuinely touching. I wouldn’t have thought director Chris Weitz would be able to adjust so far back after directing New Moon from The Twilight series. This is about as low key a production as that overly hyped episode was conspicuous. I have to acknowledge him for making the principled choice to direct something so intimate.

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.

6 Responses to “A Better Life”

  1. I agree with you Mark. The father’s performance made this movie feel real. I felt every emotion from just his facial expressions alone. Wasn’t a great story, but I bought into it.


    • Remember the part where he’s staring out the window of the passenger side of the car. He’s leaving the estate he was just working at and they show him watching the various people outside. The way the “scenery” changes as he gets closer and close to his own home? That was profound in a quiet way.


  2. This one is on my hit list Mark but from the previews, my expectations aren’t high. Humanizing illegal immigration is a very welcome perspective especially in light of how polarizing the issue is in American politics notwithstanding the reality of Mexico emerging as strong middle class economy. Having not yet seen this movie, I may not be in a position to say this, but my first instinct wouldn’t have been to put this movie in the same category as Maria Full of Grace or Sin Nombre, other than for them having similar themes. Those two were exceptional movies, due to story line, direction and most definitely actor performances, that really humanized the struggles of illegal immigration and survival in a most visceral way that impacted me for several days. I’ll most likely Netflix this one.


  3. Markus Robinson Says:

    Great review Mark. I agree with you about Demián Bichir performance, but I simply thought the story was to poorly written and campy for anyone to take seriously. I really couldn’t get past that aspect.


    • I would’ve agreed if you had said the story was like a “TV movie of the week“, but campy?!? Campy like a parody of a drama? I don’t see that. Bichir was so good, brilliant even. His performance sold the movie. What can I say? I even teared up at the end.


  4. I didn’t like this as much as you did, but I found it all right. Demián Bichir was phenomenal, but that was about it for me. There’s so many great films with the simplest stories and this just didn’t strike me as one of them. Here’s my review:


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