In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_momo_poster

A Letter to Momo

Even scenes that work, such as a climax on a rain-soaked bridge, feel like they could have been trimmed by a few hand-drawn frames. Maybe…

Thumb_69rzzkn5scyaqf9fhbegvjhsrmb

Cannibal

Visually striking and confident but frustratingly hollow in terms of character and narrative.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Life Itself Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives

Reviews

A Better Life

A Better Life Movie Review
  |  

Carlos is an undocumented Mexican immigrant who works as a gardener tending the lawns of Los Angeles residents who are rich, especially from his point of view. He lives from hand to mouth and day to day in a tiny house whose garden is used to raise starter plants for his clients. His wife left some years ago, and he raises his 15-year-old son, Luis, by himself.

In "A Better Life," these two men are being pulled apart by life in America. Carlos (Demian Bichir) keeps a low profile, works hard, holds traditional values. Luis (Jose Julian) hasn't joined a gang in his neighborhood yet, but that would seem to be his trajectory. He misses school, he quietly considers his dad an irrelevant loser, and when he asks for money and there isn't any, he knows how to get under his father's skin: "I'll jack a little old lady."

Carlos works for Blasco (Joaquin Cosio), who owns a landscaping truck and the business that goes with it. Now Blasco has enough money to return to Mexico and his own little farm, and offers to sell Carlos his truck, tools, client list — everything. But Carlos can't get a driver's license, and a police stop would mean deportation. His sister reluctantly lends him some money, and the next day the truck is stolen. He thinks he might be able to find the man who took it and enlists his son to help him search in likely places.

Now the story takes on some of the shape of "The Bicycle Thief," the 1948 Italian neo-realist classic by Vittorio de Sica. Father and son depend on the stolen truck for their existence. And in a low key, observant way, "A Better Life" provides a tour of Los Angeles during the search; not the L.A. of Sunset Boulevard or Rodeo Drive, but the L.A. of restaurants where the kitchen staff is undocumented, of Mexican rodeos, of gang territory, of marginal workers who are essential to the city's economy.

The film's trajectory is rather predictable, but then so was the story told by "The Bicycle Thief." But the performances are pitch perfect, even including Gabriel Chavarria as Ramon, the man who steals the truck. It adds an important element to the film that he embodies a desperate man, not a bad one. When Carlos acts at a crucial moment, he is recognizing that.

The film was directed by Chris Weitz. Ring a bell? His previous film was "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." Why do I imagine he was happier making this film than that one? You need to possess considerable talent to become a successful director, and his credits also include "About a Boy" (2002), where the boy is the one teaching life lessons to the man. In a perfect world, I imagine Weitz would rather make films like "A Better Life" than "Twilight 2." Of course, that's only a guess.

Popular Blog Posts

Video games can never be art

Having once made the statement above, I have declined all opportunities to ...

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Reverse Trip: Charting the History of Bong Joon-Ho's "Snowpiercer"

A look at the cinematic and political history that resulted in Bong Joon-Ho's "Snowpiercer."

James Garner: 1928-2014

An obituary for the legendary James Garner, who has passed away at the age of 86.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus