A Better Life
The performances in the film outweigh the thin and predictable plot. The potential was there but the outcome was not.
After watching A Better Life, a story about a poor hard working father trying to provide for his son, it is not all that surprising that the director’s (Chris Weitz) previous work includes About a Boy. Although, it is a little shocking that he also did Twilight: New Moon and The Golden Compass. Weitz retreats from his blockbuster films to a familiar plotline, a heartwarming father and son story.
Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) is a poor undocumented Mexican immigrant who is a hard working gardener. Because his wife left him he must raise his 15-year-old son Luis Galindo (José Julián) alone. Carlos does the best he can do with what little he has.
Carlos does not want his son to grow up to be a gardener and his son is in agreement. Luis dreams of being rich one day, watching TV shows of million dollar homes show him what he does not have. But he is treading on dangerous ground as the friends he hangs around with aspire to be gangsters. If he is not careful he will end up becoming one as well.
At work, Carlos’s boss nags him every day to buy the work truck from him which would also include the business along with it but Carlos does not have funds to do so. He wishes more than anything to buy the truck as it means he gets the business which in return means more income. With no other option left, he calls up family to come up with the money. After convincing his sister the truck will eventually bring the money needed to pay her back, he gets the money.
Excited as can be, right after buying the truck he has it washed. Now that Carlos has his own transportation he is able to do some shopping, which he does to get his son a gift. He proudly shows up at after school to show Luis the truck but he does not show much enthusiasm about it. That is until his father tells him he gets to drive it when he gets his license.
All Carlos wants to do is to give Luis a better life, hence the title of the film. Now with his own work truck he can hire people now to work for him. That means he will make more money and eventually be able to move to a better place for Luis and him. He hopes that it would also mean that he would not have to work weekends so that he can spend time with his son.
Carlos picks up his first immigrant worker for a day out of a group of twenty or more begging for work. The first thing he does is show the worker how to trim a palm tree. As he is at the top of a very tall tree the worker takes off with the truck with the keys Carlos left on the ground. He was never able to catch up to his truck.
The truck symbolizes his dream of a better life and is once again chasing after it. It is now up to him and his son to try to track down the man who stole his truck. Perhaps more important than finding the truck is the bonding time he now gets with his son helping him.
The best scene by far is the conversation between Carlos and Luis near the end of the film. The scene has enough emotion to have you fighting back tears or at least a lump in your throat. If the film played it’s cards right, it could have had more scenes like this.
Demián Bichir was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars and Independent Spirit Awards for his portrayal of Carlos Galindo. His genital eyes undoubtedly helped him fit the role of his character well. The man was a hard worker whose only goal in life was to give his son a better life than his, how could you not like his character?
All said and done the performances in the film outweigh the thin and predictable plot. I felt like A Better Life was a little safer than it needed to be. Instead of throwing some hard punches, the film seemed to play it conservative by only throwing a few jabs. Which is really too bad, because the potential was there but the outcome was not. I believe it is the writing to blame because it was too plain vanilla to be anything more than mediocre.