Follow Us on Twitter

A Better Life - Review

A Better Life

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

CHRIS Weitz may be best known in blockbuster circles for directing The Golden Compass and The Twilight Saga: New Moon but he also made a name for himself with About A Boy.

His latest offering A Better Life subscribes more to that film’s quality and is an absorbing and deeply touching story of two immigrants – a father and a son – and the relationship that develops between them over a few pivotal days.

Inspired as much by Weitz’s decision to explore his own family’s heritage (his grandmother is the celebrated Mexican actress Lupita Tovar) as it is Vittorio De Sica’s classic The Bicycle Thief, the film also owes a lot in style to recent Oscar nominee The Visitor.

Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) is a Mexican gardener living illegally as a single dad in East Los Angeles who is desperate to keep his teenage son Luis (José Julián) away from the local gangs.

When he is offered the chance to buy his own truck by a colleague, Carlos reluctantly agrees with a view to being able to make a better, more sustainable life for himself. But when that truck is stolen he and Luis face a desperate struggle to get it back without the police becoming a part of the process.

Their ensuing quest enables the father and son to bond with each other, as each comes to understand a little more about the other’s personal challenges.

Weitz’s film, based on a script by Eric Eason, tackles a difficult subject matter in commendably non-judgemental fashion. Rather, by striving to remain apolitical throughout, he presents the film’s characters as flesh and blood people, rather than broad stereotypes.

As a result, he draws some excellent performances from Julián, as the son constantly at odds with his father’s honourable values, and from Bichir, who is outstanding as the father wanting to do right by his son.

Indeed, this is Bichir’s movie and he creates a complex portrait of determination and devotion that has to rate among the year’s best and which really ought to warrant some awards recognition for the way it tugs at the heart strings without ever feeling manipulative.

There’s strong support, too, from a variety of sources: whether it’s the gang members and school mates circling Luis’ life, Carlos’ own work colleagues or the various officials who cross their path (all of whom remain authentic rather than movie caricatures).

But then Weitz has clearly done his homework, having exhaustively researched the movie with all the people concerned and delivering a valid tale that provokes thought and, perhaps, deeper understanding on what remains a complex and globally relevant issue.

It means that A Better Life can’t fail to resonate emotionally with anyone who sees it, while reminding cinema-goers of what a significant talent Weitz can be as a filmmaker when operating on a smaller scale. Don’t be surprised if the film features highly in a lot of best of year end movie lists.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 98mins
UK Release Date: July 29, 2011