A Better Life is everything you have ever seen before, and yet it isn’t. It is poverty, relationships, gangs, and overcoming difficulties only through the help of loved ones. It is the story of an illegal immigrant to America whose one goal in life is to provide a better life for his son.
Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) works six days a week as a gardener, pretty much from dawn until well after dark. His 14 year old son, Louis (José Julián) is trying hard to stay out of the gang life that is so inticing to his classmates, and that seems so inevitable to him. It doesn’t help that his girlfriend’s uncles are deep in the life and eager for him to join them. Carlos is mostly clueless as he spends the majority of his time outside of the home, but his love for his son has no bounds. An illegal alien himself, he is careful and timid about stepping on anyone’s toes or doing anything that might attract the police. Louis was born in the States and therefore his only worry would be losing his dad.
One day, Carlos’ boss tells him that he is getting out of the business and that Carlos should buy his truck. Blessed with a generous sister who married an American to get her papers, Carlos accepts, and in doing so paints a beautiful picture for Louis about what their future will look like–no gang life, a better neighborhood, and a school with a good soccer team. Fate, it seems, does not enjoy this plan, and on Carlos’ first day out with his truck on the job he is robbed and he spends the remainder of the film chasing down the thief, who is just as bad off as he is.
Carlos is gentle, timid, and a heroic role model we rarely see in the cinemas. He puts his everything into Louis, and even when he seeks out justice, he will be nothing but honest and forgiving. Bichir is amazing. His smallest movements, the emotions behind his eyes–everything comes together so beautifully that his performance is the pinnacle of the film. The honesty of the story is nothing compared to the honesty of his role.
I thought Julián did a fairly good job emoting, but the rest of the acting was average or worse. All in all, once we got past the first half hour I thought it was pretty good. Some might find it predictable, but I am rarely a good judge of this. It is a typical story of a father trying to bridge the gap that is forming between himself and his teenage son, but with a few twists thrown in. For an honest look at the more impoverished side of life in LA, I would definitely recommend this movie, although it wouldn’t be at the top of my list.