Film review: A Better Life
A Better Life, directed by Chris Weitz, is a powerful film set in East Los Angeles which depicts the lives of Carlos, a Mexican illegal immigrant, and Luis, his teenage son. The Mexican actor Demian Bichir gives a moving performance as Carlos, a gardener who attempts to set up his own gardening company by borrowing money from his sister in order to buy a truck. When the truck is stolen the next day the brutal reality of how life is for undocumented workers in the United States become clear. Unable to call the police for fear of being deported, Carlos must hunt down the thief on foot with his son (José Julián) to get back the truck on which his livelihood depends.
This film sensitively deals with some very real issues surrounding immigration from the perspective of both the undocumented father, who lives in fear of being discovered by the authorities, and his American-born son, who is embarrassed by his father and by his own Mexican heritage. Carlos is a strong, fair man who tries to remain ‘invisible’ so as to avoid deportation and who struggles to give his son a better life than he would have enjoyed in Mexico. However, his son attends a bad school in the undesirable neighbourhood in which they live and is surrounded by gangsters who want to pull him in to their world of violence and drug-dealing. The clash of cultures between the father and son becomes evident when they find the man who stole the truck. Whereas Luis wants to physically hurt the man for what he did and sees him as no more than a thief, Carlos empathises with the fellow immigrant and recognises the poverty which led him to steal the truck.
However, A Better Life is not a cliched story of immigration and its difficulties. The script is excellent and the audience is left to make up its own mind about the issues being dealt with. Particularly interesting is the perspective of the teenage son who struggles with his own identity as a Mexican-American. He feels both pity and disdain for his father, who works long hours doing manual labour, and he refuses to reply in Spanish when his father speaks to him in his mother tongue. Most striking, however, is Luis’s lack of empathy for other Mexicans like his father who sometimes have to wait around on the street for work, speak little English and live in poverty. Luis makes it clear that he is American and therefore superior to Mexican-born immigrants, and he stresses that he detests Mexican music and other aspects of Mexican culture celebrated by the Mexican community in Los Angeles. Carlos is clearly hurt by his son’s rejection of his heritage and is visibly shocked when Luis asks him why poor Mexicans continue to have children, and why his parents decided to keep him. This emotionally-charged yet simply portrayed film has audiences gripped from start to finish and has well-deservedly been tipped as a contender for an award nomination at the end of the year.