IF you are a 3-D fan, you’ll find A Better Life a little draggy on animation but filled with real action.
Gangs of illegal workers hanging out at corners, looking a little wild-eyed, police at a crime scene, jail — just about all you think an illegal immigrant's life is made of.
The latest outing under Golden Screens Cinema’s International Screen banner is not a commercial thriller but a simple, heartfelt tale of a father, Carlos, trying to give his teenage son a better life.
The film is a welcome change from what you usually get out of Hollywood. From The Help and African-Americans, you now get to see a gritty, realistic side of another minority — the Hispanics tending the manicured gardens of the wealthy in LA.
The dilemma of any industrious, immigrant family out to survive in a city, and to keep the children out of gangs, jail, and deportation is starkly set out in this film, directed by Chris Weitz (of American Pie and About a Boy fame).
“Do you want to end up like me,” the gardener father asks moody Luis. The teenager lies about studying and other stuff and is involved with teenage gangs. Quite a handful.
Well-known Mexican star Demian Bichir shines in his role as Carlos. You may remember him as Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s Che.
In A Better Life, Bichir plays the grunt in the garden admirably. His face is so expressive that you are drawn into his love for his son, and survival woes that include a truck on loan that gets stolen, and immigration authorities waiting to send him back to Mexico.
The subtitles are then just a bonus. No wonder Bichir was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for this film.
Newcomer Jose Julian as Luis, and his friends are believable in their roles. So is East Los Angeles, as filmed by award-winning cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (the man behind the lens in The Others).
A Better Life has a bitter-sweet ending. It offers some hope for fathers and sons, but leaves you fully aware that there are many immigrants whose dreams do not come true. A choice socially conscious film.
A BETTER LIFE
Directed by Chris Weitz
Starring Demian Bichir, Jose Lulian, Eddie ‘Piolin’ Sotelo
Running Time 98 minutes
Rating PG 13