A BETTER LIFE
(director: Chris Weitz; screenwriters: Eric Eason/based on a story by Roger L. Simon; cinematographer: Javier Aguirresarobe; editor: Peter Lambert; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Demian Bichir (Carlos Galindo), José Julián (Luis Galindo), Dolores Heredia (Anita), Joaquín Cosío (Blasco Martinez), Chelsea Rendon (Ruthie Valdez), Nancy Lenehan (Mrs. Donnelly), Tim Griffin (Juvie Officer), Carlos Linares(Santiago); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Paul Junger Witt/Christian McLaughlin/Mr. Weitz/Jami Gertz/Stacey Lubliner; Summit Entertainment; 2011)
“A sympathetic tale about an illegal Mexican.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Chris Weitz(“About a Boy”/”The Golden Compass”/”The Twilight Saga: New Moon”), of Mexican ancestry, directs a sympathetic tale about an illegal Mexican single dad, Carlos Galindo (Demian Bichir), struggling to make a better life in East LA as a gardener and to keep his sullen street-savvy teenage son Luis Galindo (José Julián), conflicted about joining a local Mexican street gang, on a straight path. It’s based on a story by Roger L. Simon and is written by Eric Eason.
The force of the film turns when the hardworking and morally upright Carlos, despite no driver’s license buys a truck and the lawn service contacts from his retiring former boss Blasco (Joaquin Cosio) with money borrowed from his married sister (Delores Heredia), but the truck is stolen by an ungrateful elderly illegal (Carlos Linares) he hires. Carlos and Luis, not able to report the theft to the police, team-up to track down the thief. But discover he already sold the truck and sent the money home to family members in Mexico.
The film’s neo-realism reminds one ofVittorio De Sica’s classic The Bicycle Thief (1948).
The poignant film is a heartfelt spiritual journey telling how difficult it becomes to make a better life for the invisible illegal when he has to always look over his shoulder for police, as the deck is stacked against him because the law can never be on his side. Though Weitz never directly preaches about changing the laws, it’s easy to infer he believes that’s the solution. The beauty of the film is that it’s appealing no matter how you stand on the immigration issue.
The script is overloaded with familiar tales of woe to pull at our heartstrings, but the brilliant expressive performance by Demian Bichir as the gallant dad who tries to do right for his angry and confused son, rises above the overly sentimental screenplay because we see the pain in his face and the picture of that is worth more than the uninspiring dialogue of such an overused story.
REVIEWED ON 10/31/2011 GRADE: B