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

RogerEbert.com

Thumb concrete poster

Dragged Across Concrete

It’s difficult to ignore the craftsmanship and performances in Dragged Across Concrete simply because you don’t like some of its darker themes or feel like…

Thumb sunset poster

Sunset

Nemes' suggestive, impressionistic approach takes some getting used to, but Sunset is worth the extra effort.

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…

Other Reviews
Great Movie 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."

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

Popular Blog Posts

The Most Unforgettable Episodes of The Twilight Zone

Jessica Ritchey on the episodes of The Twilight Zone that she thinks about the most.

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

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

A Reappraisal of Oliver Stone's "Alexander: The Ultimate Cut"

On the eve of its 10th anniversary, a new version of Oliver Stone's Alexander on Blu-ray demands a reappraisal.

S. Craig Zahler on Dragged Across Concrete, Casting Mel Gibson, His Writing Process and More

An interview with writer/director S. Craig Zahler about his new film, Dragged Across Concrete.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus