A Better Life
Directed by: Chris Weitz
Cast: Demián Bichir, José Julián
Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins
Release Date: July 15, 2011
PLOT: A gardener (Bichir) in East L.A. buys a landscaping truck hoping to make a better world for his son (Julián). Things turn terribly difficult and Carlos must fight to maintain his son, his possessions and the dream of a better life.
WHO'S IT FOR? I try to dissect that question in the review below. It's a difficult sell.
Life is difficult. Everyone knows this except maybe Paris Hilton. A Better Life comes along and reminds us things could be worse.
The film could best be described as getting into the wrestling ring with The Rock. Thousands of people are cheering, though mainly for him. But still, there's excitement in the air. You've never had this chance before. Outside of the ring, life was awful, inside the ring, you have a chance. It's all up to you to create this amazing moment. All you have to do is pin The Rock. You put all of your strength into a clothesline. You nail him. You turn to the crowd and share a brief moment, until you realize The Rock wasn't hurt at all. He starts off with a gut punch that immediately buckles you to the ground. All hope is gone from your eyes, and it's replaced with fear. The attack from The Rock keeps coming. For some reason, you keep getting up. Instead of him being impresses with your effort and taking it easy on you, he attacks some more and then invites Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Sergeant Slaughter (sorry, I haven't watched wrestling since grade school) into the ring to add to your pain. By the way, your disinterested son was standing in your corner the whole time.
Seeing heartache and sadness on the big screen can be a joy. I do more of my crying watching movies than in real life. But this is misery, with the only message being ... life is difficult, and for an illegal Mexican immigrant it's nearly impossible.
I always try to think who the ideal audience is for a film. For A Better Life, I'm stumped. Will Mexican-Americans want to see a painful journey? Will liberals flock and say, "I feel your pain"? Will conservatives say, "See, I told you this is what could happen if you cross the border"?
While it feels heavy-handed, director Weitz and lead Demián Bichir do their job well. I only knew Bichir from "Weeds" and he totally loses that character as Carlos. Julián as his son Luis doesn't nail this role and the script doesn't help. In the beginning the only quality from Luis that we can hold on to is that he might not want to join a gang. Carlos on the other hand wants to blend in and stay out of trouble. When he does stand up, The Rock and the other wrestlers metaphorically knock him down, a lot. Please keep in mind, I'm only using wrestling to compare with the film. Dwayne Johnson isn't here.
When it comes time for some father-son bonding, it's over a crime. Have you ever thought, "My dad never takes me to the black market"? Is so, you'll be able to live vicariously through this pain. While the ending is definitely the best, most emotional part, the journey to get there is just so rough. I don't know what life in Mexico is like. I needed to know that, to fully embrace this. Perhaps there can be a prequel called An Awful Life so then I can believe this is A Better Life.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10