A Better Life

Gardener Pains


29 July 2011| No Comments on A Better Life     by Sean Chavel


Poignant melodrama of a gardener working illegally in the United States. A Better Life portrays the life of Carlos (Demian Bichir), the kind of very good and principled man who works tirelessly for the sake of his family. In this case, his only family is his rotten son Luis (Jose Julian) – rotten but not irredeemable. The boy would be guided by better behavior, probably, if his father was around more often. The gang-infested high school he attends doesn’t help. But then a chance for betterment: Carlos’ boss is retiring and turning the gardening business over to him. Carlos purchases his truck and tools, and with the constant clientele, he should earn more money to put his son into a better school. From here, the film borrows the plot device of one of the most famous foreign films of all-time, the 1948 Italian masterpiece tearjerker “The Bicycle Thief.” In that film, the father’s instrument for occupation, his bicycle, is stolen.

In “A Better Life,” the truck is stolen. Carlos doesn’t push but rather invites his teenage son, who is contemplating entering a gang initiation, to assist in the look for his truck. Luis is not a proud son and often veers from his father, and he’s torn between worlds, but he still has bloodline loyalty. Together, on their citywide search, they find a new livelihood in each other. The way it’s written, it’s convincing enough that the two can track down leads. But Luis wishes his father was tougher, for Carlos is an unaggressive and polite type who doesn’t pester the thief’s associates.

Being an illegal owning a truck in Los Angeles is already a conspicuous attention-getter. Alas, looking for a stolen truck can be equally problematic, because the law must not interfere. In a way, you’re wondering – if the film has enough budget – when will the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) get interwoven into the story? Directed by Chris Weitz (“About a Boy,” “Twilight: New Moon”), “A Better Life” is a socially conscious and topical piece that gives human dimension to undocumented workers. Whatever plot obstacles pervade will give us a better informative understanding of the general immigrants’ contemporary problems.

That said, the film has a predictable outline. But the performance by Bichir has such dignity and resilience, he makes you cry on the inside and almost drives you to cry on the outside. Here’s a look at a marginal man who works so hard but modestly for the benefits of others that you can’t help but feel compassion for him. Troubles can only further make him a better man. Luis learns core values from his father at a fraction at a time.

98 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “The Bicycle Thief” (1948, Italy); “El Norte” (1984, Mexico); “My Family Mi Familia” (1994); “Man Push Cart” (2005).


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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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