A Better Life movie poster
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A Better Life movie poster

A Better Life Movie Review

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Just as it was about to slip away into oblivion, A Better Life makes a triumphant comeback, claiming a coveted nomination for its star at the Academy Awards. Demián Bichir is a candidate to win the award for Best Actor for his portrayal of an illegal immigrant just trying to give his son a decent (or should I say ‘better'?) life, but whose circumstances quickly spiral out of control.

Risk can be good. Making the right move at the right time can lead to significant return. Then again, it can also come back and bite you in the ass. Carlos Galindo (Bichir) learns this the hard way. He makes an okay living doing yard work in Los Angeles, enough to support him and his teenage son (José Julián). Despite lacking a driver's license or legal documentation to be in the United States, he hesitantly decides to buy a friend's truck so he can start his own business and make a better life for his family. It's a risk - if he were pulled over or got in an accident, he could be deported - but the returns are great.

Unfortunately, the returns Carlos sees are not what he envisioned. His truck is stolen. Desperate to retrieve it - after all, he spent not only all of his hard-earned money but his sister's as well - he goes to great lengths to track down the thief. And it only gets worse from there.

Directed by Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass, New Moon), A Better Life is an emotional but far-from-perfect drama. The movie paints a splendid picture of one man's story, one of the better depictions of the paradox of illegal immigrants. It especially hits home in the third act, its matter-of-fact portrayal of the immigration and deportation process impactful, much more so than overtly dramatized portrayals seen in movies such as Crossing Over. Bad comparison, I know.

The movie is well done but unremarkable, so understated that it fails to leave a lasting impression - or even much of an impression as you watch it. The same can be said about Bichir's performance. He is very good, and yet in a year's time no one will remember this movie or his performance. It's nice that he received an Oscar nomination, but there were more deserving actors who were overlooked.

A Better Life is a good little drama, but that's exactly what it is: a good little drama. It's nothing more or less, holding no discernable flaws and yet no remarkable attributes, either.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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