365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About

20Feb/120

A Better Life (2011)

Demian Bichir (most recognized in America for his role as  ruthless and corrupt Tijuana major Esteban Reyes in the Emmy Award Nominee Showtime series Weeds) as an undocumented Mexican immigrant named Carlos who works as a day worker, landscaping the yards of large yards in the affluent Los Angeles neighborhoods. He migrated from Mexico some 16 years ago after marrying. His 15-year-old son Luis (Jose Julian) is everything to him after his wife left him to experience a more exciting life in America that Carlos was unable to provide. A Better Life is exactly what its title suggests, a father trying to provide a better life for him and his son.

In Chris Wetiz's (About a Boy, American Pie) film, Carlos is forced to keep a low profile and keep his nose clean. He has strong values and the love for his son is evident, even if his ability to really parent the teenager is questioned. Luis hasn't yet joined a local gang, but it seems all but inevitable that this will be a part of his future. His best friend keeps telling Luis that it is time. Luis has not said yes or no, but comes up with excuses for delaying his decision. Luis is a nice enough kid, but he misses school whenever he wants and believes that his father isn't a big enough man to enforce any sort of discipline.

Carlos works for a friend of his named Blasco who owns his own landscape truck and all of the work that he is able to bring along with own his own vehicle. But change is on the horizon as Blasco has accomplished his goal of earning enough money to return to Mexico and continue on with the rest of his life. Blasco wants Carlos to buy his business from him. This would include inheriting Blasco's truck, all of Blasco's tools, and his client list. While Carlos knows this will allow him to earn much more money than he currently he has, he does not have a driver's license and even getting pulled over by the police would mean automatic deportation. However, without Blasco, Carlos will be forced to stand on a local street corner hoping to be selected as a day laborer. But finding work everyday will no longer be guaranteed.

Carlos does secure his own truck, but an unfortunate event happens that requires Carlos and Luis to go on a little mission through Los Angeles together. I could say more, but stating the exact conflict might sour your interest in seeing the movie. Without saying the exactly what happens, I can say with confidence that whatever the problem is, it really doesn't matter. What is more important and what is really worth the watch is the interaction between father and son. Luis sees his father differently and really begins to understand just everything his father has done to provide for him.

The movie is worth the watch just to see Bichir's performance. I had only his Esteban Reyes Weeds' character to compare his performance in this movie against and I honestly couldn't believe I was seeing the same actor. In fact, I thought this was the first time I had seen Bichir on screen until after the movie and I began doing some research for my review. Regardless of your interest in the story, I would see this movie just for the performance of its lead actor. Bichir is very deserving of his Best Actor Academy Award nomination and while he is a dark horse at best to beat out the two favorites (Jean Dujardin - The Artist and George Clooney - The Descendants), more bizarre things have happened. I hope Bichir continues to get more roles that can continue to show his range as an actor. I was disappointed that Michael Shannon did not get nominated for the award for his role in Take Shelter, but I wouldn't have substituted Shannon for Bichir. I would have had Dejardin, Clooney, Bichir, Shannon and Brad Pitt (Moneyball) while leaving out Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Plot 9/10
Character Development 9/10
Character Chemistry 9/10
Acting 8/10 (Bichir is top notch and deserving of his Academy Award nomination...the rest of the acting is decent, but not great)
Screenplay 9/10
Directing  9/10
Cinematography 9/10
Sound 8.5/10
Hook and Reel 9/10 (Hooked me, but it probably had a lot to do with me knowing a little something about the movie going in)
Universal Relevance 10/10 (We can all relate. This will hit home a lot closer to some that it will to others)
89.5%

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