A few months back (well, it's been a while now), our local Independent Theater was playing a special showing of `A Better Life' and so my wife and I snuck away from the kids to indulge in one of our favorite pastimes; movies. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I had read good ink on Demian Bichir's performance and so I was excited to see what all the hype was about.
Wow; he was outstanding.
The film centers around an illegal immigrant named Carlos, working as a gardener in LA. He came to America with his wife and young son hoping to make a better life for them. Years later, he is raising his now teenage son alone, and his life really isn't that much better. He works hard, day in and day out, but he isn't making much headway. When a business opportunity presents itself, Carlos is hesitant to embrace it, but with a push from his sister he takes the leap, hoping that the payoff will be grand. In the meantime, his son is being persuaded by schoolmates to join a gang, and his growing frustration with his own situation is making him question his own loyalty to his father.
Sadly, `A Better Life' works better on paper than it does on film. When Bichir is not on the screen, the film falters; especially because the depiction of the gang and Carlos's son's friends are pretty clichéd and poorly acted. It takes you out of the gritty realism that Bichir brings to his role and his scenes. It felt like two separate films conflicting with one another; which is semi-understandable considering that Carlos and his son live in two separate worlds, but the cohesion needed to meld these two worlds together was missing. Bichir is remarkable though; a slow burning performance that grows in intensity but contains so much subtlety. His final scene with his son left me a puddle of tears. It was superbly played and possibly one of the single most moving scenes I've seen in all cinema this year.
I would recommend this film. It tells a beautiful story of one man's drive to help better his son's life. It doesn't work as a whole as well as I wanted it to, for it does in moments seem too simply crafted, but simple can be rewarding when it is done right; and there are many moments in `A Better Life' that are certainly done VERY right.