A Better Life (***½)

Chris Weitz had a breakthrough in a big way in 2002’s indie dramedy About a Boy, which he received an Academy Award nomination for Adapted Screenplay.  Since then, he’s struggled in directorial choices such as The Golden Compass (2007) and The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) and hasn’t capitalized on the promise once thought of him.    What Weitz has delivered in his newest film, A Better Life, assisted by a passionate performance by Demián Bichir is one of the most compelling and emotional films of the year.

The film tells the story of Carlos (Bichir), an illegal Mexican immigrant just trying to make ends meet for him and his fourteen year old son Luis (José Julián).  While Carlos struggles and shows constant compassion for the human race, Luis has been struggling with school and the temptation of joining a local Los Angeles gang.  The constant fear of deportation is on Carlos’ mind as his limitations in job choices and transportation starts weighing in heavily.  The film is an exposé of the United States’ immigration problems that has resonated for decades, although, Weitz brings a fresh and fervent touch on the sensitive subject matter.

The film’s beautiful simplicity is carried massively on the work of Demián Bichir, instantly and surely one of the best performances seen in 2011.  Bichir doesn’t flinch, hiccup, or lose any sight of Carlos.  He breathes new life into what could easily be stereotypical and bland characterization yet, attacks the role with heart and soul like some of the great actors of film history.  In a flawless realization of polished and proficient depiction, Bichir maneuvers through the story slick, sensitive, and enduring and at your most vulnerable point, pounces on your heartstrings.  It’s the best dedication to the acting form seen in 2011 thus far.  Oscar, please notice.

José Julián delivers one of the impressive breakthrough performances by a child actor this year yet.  Luis’ balance to Carlos’ story succeeds solely on Julián’s shoulders.  As a confused adolescent, fighting to be accepted by his peers along with the demons of his past, Julián inhabits the pain of a child brilliantly.  It gives hope to the future of acting when a performance like Julián’s is witnessed at such a young age.

While the dialogue isn’t the compelling take of exchanging, especially between the other supporting players, writers Eric Eason and Roger L. Simon attempt a subject matter that raises plenty of debate and question and leaves it to the viewer’s interpretation.  The film is directed extremely well and paced superbly.  Alexandre Desplat’s score is stamped remarkably as an added topping on the sweet tale.  The film is a must-see for any lover of the movies.

The film captures raw emotion and places it in a bottle distributing ounce by ounce until your heart is filled to the brim.  It’s a character study of epic proportions that inhabits a deeply moving story that may seem familiar but not at all accustomed.

Seen the film?  It’s on DVD October 18th.  Discuss the film on the Forum!