Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Video review: "A Better Life"
The best movie of 2011 nobody's heard of is "A Better Life." This drama from director Chris Weitz ("About a Boy") and screenwriter Eric Eason takes a wrenching and evocative look at the debate over illegal immigration, but chooses to frame itself as a human story rather than a political diatribe.
Demián Bichir plays Carlos, a middle-aged single father who's been living in the U.S. illegally for more than a decade. He speaks perfect English, has a steady job as a gardener, and tries to be the best parent he can to his son Luis (José Julián), who's at that stage in teendom when fathers suddenly become an unendurable embarrassment.
Carlos is presented with an opportunity: His boss is moving back to Mexico, and offers to sell him the truck and client list. Carlos scrapes together the money, but then tragedy strikes when a day laborer he hires to help him -- much the same way Carlos got his start years earlier -- steals the truck.
Carlos is unable to turn to the authorities for help -- the moment where Carlos, running after the truck, spots a policeman and realizes he cannot approach him is a gobsmacking moment.
Self-consciously recalling the Italian film "The Bicycle Thief," Carlos and Luis must find the truck or risk seeing their meager happiness crumble. Their journey takes them to the highs and lows of Los Angeles, pulling back the veil on the tawdry fear and undying hope woven into the fabric of the immigrant community.
"A Better Life" is a portrait of the American Dream, as it actually is rather than how we would like it to be.
Video extras are passable, but nothing to write home about. Features are the same for DVD and Blu-ray versions.
Weitz contributes a feature-length commentary track. There are also several deleted scenes and a music video by Ozomatli.
Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 2.5 stars out of four