A Better Life is a departure for director Chris Weitz, who has directed large budget, mass appeal films like About a Boy, The Golden Compass, and New Moon. He chose to helm a smaller movie with relatively unknown actors save one, but he directed a film that has the chance to open some eyes. The theme of A Better Life is a universal one; a father wants to give his son a better life, one that he did not know. The story focuses on Mexican illegal immigrant father, Carlos, played by Demian Bichir. He works as a gardener at the wealthy houses around Los Angeles. He works long hours seven days a week. He does this all for his son, Luis, played by José Julián. Luis was born in the US and is in high school. His mom left his father when he was younger, and it has been just the two of them ever since. They live in a run-down, small house and get by with what Carlos makes as a gardener. The story begins to change when Blasco (Joaquín Cosio), Carlos’ boss, decides to go back to Mexico and asks if Carlos would like to buy his truck, tools, and his business. He buys the truck to hopefully better the life of himself and his son. Unfortunately, something happens that turns the tide for Carlos and Luis completely.
It is true of most non-immigrant Americans that we don’t understand what illegal immigrants go through just to survive. A Better Life accurately shows the hard work that they do for little pay. They do the work that the average American would not do and live in places and situations that many of us cannot imagine. Carlos does not complain. He only wants to do what is best for his son, give him the “American dream.” Luis goes to a high school that resembles a prison both in look and sounds. He is very wary of the gang culture that tempts boys into a life of crime and violence. His girlfriend has uncles that could quickly lay down the law better than the police. His best friend envies the gang members and knows that is the life for him. Luis possesses a healthy fear of becoming a gang member, but tends to display some characteristics of them.
The story of A Better Life is complete arc of the character, Carlos, and Demian Bichir plays him well. Some moviegoers may recognize him from the HBO series Weeds. Carlos is a complete departure for him, and he sinks into the character completely. The audience roots for him to make it in several scenes. Carlos is without a doubt a selfless father. Newcomer José Julián plays Luis with the aloofness that most teenagers display. He can play annoyed and bratty very well. The two actors worked well together on screen, and their father/son relationship was believable.
There are some poignant moments in the film that stuck with me. At one point, Luis asks Carlos why poor people have kids. I have to admit I have asked that question in my head many times, and I am guessing people that see this film have asked that themselves. For Luis, the answer also applies to himself since his parents were poor when they had him. The other moment in the film that struck a chord with me is the very last line of the film. That one line wholly encompasses the sentiment that immigrants, legal and illegal, believe.
I was pleasantly surprised by A Better Life. I liked the movie trailer for the film, and was not disappointed with the film at all. The whole cast and crew of the film made a film that should be seen by all Americans, and they should be proud of the outcome. Those that take the chance to see this extraordinary film will hopefully come to understand the situation illegal immigrants are in and why they come to the US.
I give A Better Life 4.5 “Jarritos sodas” out of 5.
P.S. I would dissuade you from watching the trailer. After watching the film, the trailer gives away every single major plot detail of the entire film.