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  • Writer's pictureSteve

A Better Life (2011)

Life as an immigrant is hard. We get it. We also get that parents want the best for their children and are able to withstand the worst that life can throw at them in order to achieve something better for their offspring than they enjoyed themselves. This makes no difference if you're Mexican, or Chinese. It's all the same.

This is not the first movie (and it certainly won't be the last) to highlight the plight of the forgotten, underpaid and classless inhabitants of a suburban America that relies on the very same people it often derides to park their cars, make their dinners or clean their houses. Often, this story comes with predictable baggage. It usually means that the forgotten underclass represented will always look for an easy opportunity to improve and they are not normally too fussy about the legalities involved in order to achieve what they feel they deserve.

Not the case, here. Mexican immigrant Carlos Galindo is a jobbing gardener, working fastidiously to keep his head above water. His teenage son Luis is a serial malingerer and truant from school, only a hairs breadth away from joining a gang, if only for the respect and power that he sees are the only real way out of his hole of a life.

When Carlos buys his boss' old truck and starts to run his own gardening business is when the story really begins. Everything leading up to this point is preamble really, setting the scene of a struggling single father, working under the radar of the authorities and dreaming, somewhat naively of, well...a better life.

Unsurprisingly, things do not go to plan and when his truck is stolen, up goes his livelihood. He cannot go to the police to report it, so he and his son take it upon themselves to find the thief. All of this time spent together means we are afforded a glimpse into their lives and the very different views they each have about their lot. Their search takes the viewer to some interesting places, not least the authentic Mexican sightseeing tour of Southern California.

Demian Bichir play Carlos as a lost, but good hearted soul, doing his best for himself and his son. His best isn't great and he often appears lost and helpless. The sole reason for watching the film in the first place was as a catch up for the Oscars, for which Bichir has been nominated in the category for Best Actor. In this regard, it is a bit of a quandary. Whilst the character is almost rounded, Bichir never appears to produce anything compelling for the audience. The film is driven as much by the character of Luis as his father and you have to wonder what it was about the performance that made this one of only five apparently outstanding male actor performances for the Academy this year.

The highs aren't likely to make you smile any more than the lows are going to make you feel sorrow for the characters. This really did seem to be movie making by numbers and you can easily see this showing on movie channels everywhere in the middle of the afternoon as filler. The film rarely gets going and it is something of a trial to sit through, taking itself way too seriously given its severe lack of gravitas.


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