Title: A Better Life
Year: 2011
Genre: Drama, Romance
Play time: 1h 38min
Director: Chris Weitz
Screenwriters: Eric Eason
Starring: Demián Bichir, José Julián, Eddie ‘Piolin’ Sotelo

Settled in for a topical liberal issue movie about illegal immigrants, and got… a topical liberal issue movie about illegal immigrants, but a surprisingly nuanced and interesting one. Chris Weitz’s A Better Life is purposefully apolitical on its face; its pivotal point-scoring moment involves its two protagonists, embattled illegal Carlos (veteran Mexican actor Demian Bichir, terrific) and his teenage son Luis (Jose Julian) passing a big immigration protest near the LA City Hall: “What’s all that?” asks Luis, to which Carlos replies, “That’s nothing.” While the rest of us argue about fences and amnesties and police stops, the people who do our gardening and pick our crops are living in a constant nightmare as a permanent underclass. Dreaming of a future for his son, Carlos wheedles and borrows and works for enough money to purchase his friend’s gardening business (i.e., a truck, which he must drive without a license), with arrest and deportation awaiting him around every corner. Luis, meanwhile, contemplates joining one of the ubiquitous violent gangs roaming the neighborhood, which seem, understandably, like his only path to some measure of security.

The screenplay by Eric Eason is too earnest and sentimental, a bit too reliant on big speeches. But it’s also unexpected. There are no saintly, helpful white people thrown in pander to middle class audiences; no courtroom heroics and no real happy ending. Though given a touch of Hollywood gloss (Weitz is, after all, best known for films like The Golden Compass and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), A Better Life is a disquieting and fairly uncompromising portrayal of our insular, oppressive economic underbelly.

Eugene Novikov

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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