McCoy on Movies: A Better Life Movie Review PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tabari McCoy   
Sunday, 07 August 2011 23:38

McCoy on Movies: A Better Life Movie Review
What makes a story about a Mexican immigrant one of the year's best films? Click here to see why our reviewer calls
A Better Life one of 2011's best films!



"My mustache is the most interesting mustache in the world ... With this hat, I'm irresistible!" Illegal immigrant Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) ponders his future in a scene from director Chris Weitz's drama A BETTER LIFE. Credit: Merrick Morton. © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Demián Bichir Bichir, José Julián, Carlos Linares, Joaquín Cosio, Bobby Soto, Chelsea Rendon, Gabriel Chavarria and Dolores Heredia
Eric Eason (screenplay); Roger L. Simon (story)
DIRECTOR: Chris Weitz
The latest film from Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass), A Better Life, centers around a man named Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir of Weeds fame). A native of Mexico, Carlos had grand dreams when he came to America years ago, but since his wife left him after determining he could not give her what she wanted out of life, things have been rough. Carlos, however, is determined to make the best life he can for himself and his son, Luis (José Julián), a 14-year-old who has a girlfriend (Chelsea Rendon) and a best friend (Bobby Soto) who are dangerously close to falling victim to the trappings of L.A. gang life.


Carlos thinks he has found a way to escape a life of poverty when his boss, Blasco (Joaquín Cosio), tells him he is retiring and looking for someone to take over the gardening business he runs out of his truck. Carlos, who could ask the husband of his sister, Anita (Dolores Heredia), for the money, wants to buy the truck, but only has one problem: Unlike Anita, who has her green card, and his son, who by being born in America is an American citizen, Carlos is an illegal immigrant. Thus, if he gets pulled over, he has no driver's license - or any other documentation - he can produce to prevent deportation.


Thus, Carlos is left with a big decision to make - pursue his dream and hope for the best or lie low and wait for another opportunity. What ensues is an exploration of the pursuit of the American dream, the bonds between father and son and all the things one may endure in pursuit of - cue title screen!


THE TAKE: A lot of people are going to watch the trailer for A Better Life and write it off simply as a pro-immigration story. And that's fine, although that's not really what the movie is about at all. If you actually invest your time in the movie, you'll come to see that it is really a story about a man - portrayed with Academy Award-level dedication by Bichir - trying to, pardon the reference to the HBO of a similar name, make it in America. And by make it, I don't mean be famous or rich, but to simply provide for the one thing in his life (his son) that he cares about the most.


Weitz does an excellent job in his direction to not be heavy-handed and play up any one element to elicit a pro- or anti-immigration reaction from his audience. Instead, he crafts the story in such a fashion so that when you experience everything that happens to Carlos, you have the same excitement, disappointment, fear, optimism and frustration he has. The visuals are as much a part of the story as are the journeys of the characters, all of which under his direction showcase various facets of life in America for all people - from the big dreamers and hard-working masses to the pessimists and those who seemingly cannot escape situations they know lead to a dead end.


This only works, however, because of the wonderful acting displayed by Bichir. It's really hard to put into words how well he conveys all of the aspects of his character in the film - be it a father, someone who knows the value of hard work, good Samaritan, man who celebrates his culture yet wants to embrace the American dream and so on. Without his performance, the film simply would not work as well as it does.


Julián likewise does a good job in his role as Luis - for as much as you understand and care about seeing Carlos succeed, you understand why his son has a hard time doing as such. Having not shared his father's upbringing, he is much more of a modern American teenager in his thinking, belief system and actions. Watching his character's development over the course of the film plays wonderfully as a juxtaposition to that of his father in regards to what each character comes to appreciate in life, especially considering how they arrive at their conclusions.


PARTING SHOT: Immigration issues notwithstanding, A Better Life does a wonderful job at doing what many movies in its class fail to do: It provides a moving story of a simple man that makes you both empathetic and sympathetic for its lead character while appreciating your own life and inspiring you to pursue your own dreams. While the story itself may not be new and the issue surrounding its release may be relevant and controversial, a good movie is inspiring, touching and well done - and those words summarize why A Better Life is one of 2011's best films thus far.



Tabari McCoy -

Tabari McCoy is Cincy Chic's movie critic. You can check out more of his work on his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @tabarimccoy


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