In A Better Life, screenwriter Eric Eason (with story by Roger L. Simon) shines a light on the plight of those who are less fortunate, seeking opportunity in the United States.
Carlos (played by Mexican movie star Demian Bichir of Weeds fame), a gardener and father in Los Angeles, is struggling to provide for his son, Luis (Jose Julian), and keep him away from the L.A. gang life. Through his job, an opportunity arises that gives Carlos hope for giving Luis a better life. This proves easier said than done, though, when Carlos’ livelihood is taken away from him through his own act of kindness.
It doesn’t help that the neighborhood in which the father and son reside and the environment of Luis’ school are ripe for unsavory situations the father wants his son to avoid. Even Luis’ girlfriend, a tough chica named Ruthie (Chelsea Rendon), is pressuring Luis into joining the gang run by her family.
A father’s love for his son translates in any culture. What makes this story different is that at every turn, Carlos is met with hardships. Just when it seems that he has finally met with a great opportunity, he gets knocked down and has to face the possibility of being deported.
I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting a commentary on immigration when I screened A Better Life. Eason and director Chris Weitz made sure that the protagonist had the full sympathy of his audience before pulling the rug out from under Carlos (and the audience).
Carlos is an upstanding citizen who never has a harsh word for anyone; not even the man who has stolen his livelihood. Carlos is an honest man. If Carlos says he’s going to do something, he does it. And, best of all, Carlos always puts his son and his son’s needs before his own.
Just when you’re rooting for Carlos to triumph is when A Better Life takes a turn down a dark, yet important path. Eason takes Carlos out of the equation and allows for Luis’ upbringing to affect his life decisions.
Actor Julian, who plays Luis, has serious acting chops, especially since this is only his second film. The feelings that this young man conveys have “a star is born” written all over his face.
Likewise with Bichir and Rendon, there’s great acting talent in this film. There has to be an Oscar nod in A Better Life’s future. It has just the right actors, writing, and story to make it resonate with audiences. It certainly did with me.
Walking out of the theater in silence with the rest of the audience showed me how much this film tugs at the heart strings. Like one audience member surmised, it’s sad because it’s real.
Whether or not Eason and Weitz are trying to make a political film about the immigration climate in the United States does not matter. A Better Life successfully showcased the love that a father has for his son and that Americans should be thankful for our opportunities. And, while we’re being thankful, we should probably give some thought to the people who are here illegally and what it means for them to exist in a land of opportunity.
Kimberly Grant may be reached at KAliciaG@aol.com.
Photo by Merrick Morton
Devoted Father: Demián Bichir stars in ‘A Better Life.’