'A Better Life' (PG-13)
This drama about a Mexican immigrant struggling to provide a home for his son is timely and universal.
The new film from director Chris Weitz looks at what happens when a hard-working Mexican gardener — living illegally in California — takes a gamble on the American Dream. It’s powerful as a simple touching family story and as a complicated examination of what many are facing in these hard economic times.
Demián Bichir turns in a strong performance as Carlos Galindo, a single father who will do anything to make sure his son, Luis (José Julián), is given all the opportunities Carlos never had. The downside is that all the hours Carlos works feeds a growing separation between father and son.
Carlos, who has lived his life in the shadows to avoid being sent back to Mexico, finally takes a gamble and buys a gardening truck. That gamble backfires and affects the tenuous connection between father and son. Their relationship goes from antagonistic to cautiously caring to a full understanding.
Weitz uses the strong chemistry between his lead actors to light emotional sparks all along the cinematic path. Bichir and Julián are convincing as a father and son who have grown up in different cultures. The culture clash comes through. because Weitz gets a clear and steady step from his actors.
If you step back and look at the film’s larger picture, this story is not limited to illegal immigrants. Anyone who has worked hard to provide for his or her family — only to have those efforts yanked away — can understand the fear, frustration and pain that Bichir shows through his expressive eyes.
Weitz also has done a remarkable job making the film walk that fine line between fiction and documentary. His use of real and potentially dangerous locations, coupled with casting non-actors in supporting roles, gives the movie a truthful feel. This is the rare movie that has a strong enough family story to touch your heart. But it also represents what has become such a universal story that it will hit audiences in a social and spiritual way, too.
Cast: Demian Bichir. Jose Julian, Eddie “Pioline” Sotelo.
Director: Chris Weitz.
Screenwriters: Eric Eason, Roger L. Simon.
Producers: Jami Gertz, Paul Junger Witt, Stacey Lubliner, Christian McLaughlin.
A Summit Entertainment release. Running time: 98 minutes. Violence, language, drug use. In Miami-Dade: South Beach, Aventura; in Broward: Paradise.