The Rush to the Oscars… A Better Life is nearly indescribable

By theredraylives | February 24, 2012

A Better Life
dir. Chris Weitz
Demián Bichir, José Julián, Dolores Heredia
Five out of Five Stars

A touching film about a hot political issue that doesn’t make a statement about it, A Better Life (check out the trailer) is a wonderful film about making dreams come true, becoming someone, and hitting rock bottom. It is also a fantastic film about fathers and sons. Unfortunately because of its subject matter, it is likely that the film will be largely ignored by some and harshly criticized by others who rail against the fact that Carlos (the wonderful Demián Bichir) is an illegal alien- those who do so will miss a fantastic performance in one of the year’s best films. A Better Life doesn’t tell you whether or not Carlos is right or wrong in being an illegal- it simply asks what a father might do for his son, and what he might do when he’s lost everything to get some of it back. NOTE: Spoilers to follow.

The film centers around Carlos, an illegal living in Los Angeles with his 14-year-old son Luis (the equally amazing José Julián). Carlos has worked for years helping his friend Blasco (Joaquín Cosio) with his lawncare business. Now, Blasco is going back home to Mexico, and Carlos is left to decide whether he’ll buy Blasco’s truck and continue the business, or whether he’ll wade back onto the streets to find a better opportunity. From here the film is one heartbreaking setback after another- he borrows money from his sister Anita (Dolores Heredia) to buy the truck and does so. He picks up a friendly laborer named Santiago (Carlos Linares), who had shown him kindness earlier, to help him. Santiago ends up stealing the truck.

Throughout the film, Luis is enticed by the gang lifestyle, where he sees the power and attitude he is desperate to emulate. He is equally desperate not to end up on a street corner waiting for passersby to offer him work- exactly who his father is. Throughout the course of the film he accompanies his father in the quest to find Santiago and get the truck back, and in so doing learns who his father really is and the struggles he has had to go through in order to give his son some kind of a life.

The entire film hinges on the performance of Bichir and he does not disappoint (and is nominated for an Academy Award for his work, in fact). He has infused Carlos with so much humanity, so much strength and sadness that it is impossible while watching the film to root against him. He buys the truck because he knows that, with a little time and a little luck, he can get his papers and become legal, and can make a better life for his son- when the truck is stolen, it all falls apart. His dream isn’t to be rich, his dream isn’t to have a mansion or to be famous. He simply wants to leave his mark on the world and on Luis, and to create an opportunity for him that he never had. With each victory, the heart warms- with each setback, one feels his pain. His is the pain of anyone who has ever dreamed of a better life for their children only to have the harsh reality of life send them crashing back to Earth, but like any father Carlos refuses to quit and keeps fighting, always working toward a better future. Bichir brings all of this to bear in his portrayal, and it is truly heart-rending.

The film is well-directed by Chris Weitz, well paced, well written, edited, and shot. It is beautifully atmospheric, and all of the locations and the music really help give the film a fantastic realism. Everything about this film is so well done, from the opening right down to the ending. It’s sad that this film isn’t receiving more consideration this Oscar season, but Bichir has certainly earned his place among the nominees for Best Actor in 2012. Five out of Five Stars.

By Nicholas Haskins

Once again, don’t forget about the trailer. You can find this review and other reviews over at my page. As always, you can follow me on Twitter or book my face. Also, be sure to follow along on Black Entertainment USA as I live-blog the Oscars! Coverage begins at 6:00 PM on Oscar Sunday!! See you there!!!! The other night I had a dream and it was very real. Your mother was there and you were there and your aunt Estelle. And there was a… well, it wasn’t really a spaceship, it was more like a blimp or an orb of some kind. And then a bunch of weird creatures came out and started trying to take you away, and you wanna know what? They all looked like Randall. Do you understand? And I was jumping up and down to save you.”

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