A Better Life (2011)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB

USA, 2011.  Summit Entertainment, Lime Orchard Productions, Witt/Thomas Productions, Depth of Field, McLaughlin Films.  Story by , Screenplay by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 2011Screen Actors Guild Awards 2011.  Toronto International Film Festival 2011.  

Demian Bichir scrapes together a living as an undocumented worker in Los Angeles, his days spent toiling in other people’s backyards while trying to raise his son () and keep him out of trouble.  When a friend and co-worker offers to sell him his truck and give him the opportunity to start his own business, Bichir takes on a great risk and buys it, only to see it stolen almost immediately and his dreams taken with it.  Meanwhile, his son is entranced by local gangs and finds the brotherhood of tough guys increasingly appealing, and it is affecting his attendance at school.  Father and son team up to get the truck back, and in doing so endanger Bichir by putting him in the way of authorities, given the vulnerability of his legal status, but also giving the two of them the chance to finally connect.  It’s not as familiar an experience as you might think, and despite its shamelessly heart-string pulling title it feels as though director Chris Weitz seems prepared for audiences already worn down by the misery of movies like El Norte and Alambrista (stop making these movies and start doing something about it!)  Instead, Weitz moves efficiently through the drama and focuses on the relationship fashioned between the two main characters.  The performances are terrific, and do a lot to make it feel like more than just an update of Bicycle Thieves, though in the end there is not much more to it than that.

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