Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A BETTER LIFE - Touching Father & Son Tale

Cast: Demián Bichir, José Julián, Dolores Heredia, Joaquin Cosio and Nancy Lenehan
Director: Chris Weitz
Screenplay: Eric Eason, based on a story by Roger L. Simon 
Time: 98 mins
Rating:  *  *  *  (out of 4)

Jose Julian and Demian Bichir as Lius and Carlos

PREAMBLE: This movie is being released in Malaysia because its main star, Demián Bichir, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor this year. If there were no Oscar buzz, A Better Life would have remained an obscure indie effort about Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles. I caught this movie when I was in the US and I am glad it has come to Malaysian shores. It is an engaging story about a father and son.

Bobby Soto, Jose Julian and Chelsea Rendon

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Bichir stars as Mexican gardener Carlos, an illegal immigrant who lives in Los Angeles with his 14-year-old son Luis (Jose Julian). Although Luis was born in the US, Carlos lives in fear of immigration officials (“La Migra”) and knows that even the slightest traffic offence could see him deported to Mexico.

When Carlos is offered the chance to buy a truck and start his own gardening business, he decides to take the risk, largely because he's worried that Luis will be drawn into drugs or gangs if he doesn't provide a better life for the two of them. Unfortunately, the newly acquired truck is promptly stolen by a fellow immigrant, forcing Carlos and Luis to take drastic action.

HITS & MISSES: This is a Hollywood production that is set in a Hispanic community in East LA and features an almost entirely Hispanic cast. It presents a vivid and moving insight into the lives of the so-called 'wet-backs' or Mexican illegals trying to eke out a life in the Land of Opportunity. And yes, Bichir is excellent as the cautious Carlos, who seems always to be in a state of exhaustion trying to provide for his son.

Our sympathies go out to Carlos as soon as we see him crashed out on the living room couch that doubles as his bed. From there on, we are emotionally tied to Carlos as his quest for a better life sends him into a series of misfortunes. Julian is also memorable as Luis and the bond between the two is believable, well-written and extremely touching.

At the end of the movie, we will (hopefully) see illegals in a different light.


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