A BETTER LIFE
By Gary Murray
Starring Demian Bichir, Delores Heredia, Jose Julian, Joaquin Cosio and Carlos Limares
Written by Eric Easton
Directed by Chris Weitz
Running time 98 min
MPAA Rating PG 13
Selig Film Rating FORGET IT!
Films about the Hispanic experience have been around for decades. Yet, they all seem to run with the same political bend. It is always about the strong, stoic worker just trying to make it in a foreign land. The latest to pull at the heart strings of guilt-ridden white America is A Better Life.
The story of A Better Life is the story of Carlos (Demian Bichir). He is one of those guys one sees hanging around the Home Depot looking for any kind of day labor job. But, he has a permanent gig with Blasco (Joaquin Cosio), a landscaping illegal who has his own truck. Blasco, having made his money in California, is sneaking back to Mexico to buy his own pig farm and he wants to sell the truck to his trusted second. Problem is that Carlos doesn’t have the money.
His son Luis (Jose Julian) is a kid in high school just trying to get through life. The gangs are all around the campus and the neighborhood. The family of his girl lives in the gang world and his best buddy wants to join up. All Luis wants to do is play soccer. He feels the pressure to join with the underworld as a way to prosperity.
Carlos takes a giant leap of faith and borrows the twelve grand from his sister, who has been hiding away her own money. He is now the boss. He takes a second leap of faith by taking on as his second an old man who was kind to him. This backfires when the old man steals the truck.
Now, Carlos must play detective and find his truck and the rotten laborer who stole the vehicle. This takes him into some of the darkest parts of the illegal immigrant experience, with ‘twenty to a room’ flop houses and the Mexican drug gangs that rule the streets.
Let’s see. Carlos is here illegally. His boss Blasco lies about being bonded and insured which is a punch line in the film. He buys a truck and has no license, no registration and no insurance. When it gets stolen, Carlos cannot go to the police because he has broken law after law after law. It is difficult to feel sorry for him because basically he is a criminal. That is the fundamental ‘rub me the wrong way’ part of the film. If your country is so bad, fix it. If you want to come here, come here legally and obey the laws.
As deplorable the situation of A Better Life reflects, one just has to admire Demian Bichir as Carlos. This is the first Oscar caliber performance of 2011. He gives such a subtle reading to the character. All he appears to be is a guy trying to make life better for his son and becomes the face of the entire illegal immigration problem. The irony of the role is that in California (where the film was shot), Demian Bichir not only had to be a legal performer but he had to be a part of the Screen Actors Guild to make the movie. Illegal aliens need not apply in La-La Land movies.
America is a welcoming country where anybody can make it if they try, you just don’t do it by breaking all our laws. We have a huge influx of immigrants from India and Viet Nam who are obeying the State Department laws. Just because one lives next door doesn’t mean they can walk into your house. A Better Life is another in a long series of ‘liberal bias’ cinema, movies with an agenda pushed in the audience face. What they all seem to have in common is the massive failure at the box office and the lauding by the Academy. A Better Life should follow that trend.