A Better Life Movie Review
Mexican gardener Carlos (Bichir) has lived illegally in Los Angeles since before his 14-year-old son Luis (Julian) was born. When he gets a chance to buy his own truck, and thereby start his own business, he starts to dream of moving to a better neighbourhood to protect Luis from gang influences. But he also worries that if he gets pulled over for any minor offence, he'll be deported and separated from his son. And when his truck is stolen, he knows he has to take action, whatever the cost.
The plot is intensely compelling, pulling us in from the start as we vividly experience the details of Carlos and Luis' happy but precarious life. The sense of danger is intense: a simple accident or bad decision could easily jeopardise them both. And Carlos' more-established sister (Heredia) can only help so much.
Director Weitz plays on this uncertainty by quietly shifting the tone and bringing up a menacing musical underscore whenever things threaten to take a turn.
On the other hand, this kind of obvious touch undermines the power of the story, because it distracts from the characters' personal journey by reminding us that we're watching a movie. Yet the script can't seem to help itself: there are constant references to how grim life is on the scary streets of East L.A.
One evening as Luis walks home, he passes both a murder crime-scene and a kerbside soup kitchen. He and his best friend (Soto) are also badly tempted by a gang member (Cabral) who twitches and flexes his tattoos in lieu of twirling a moustache.
That said, following Carlos and Luis through this series of events is extremely moving. There are moments of unbearable tension along the way, as well as some warm humour. And while the filmmakers may struggle to wrestle every experience into this one film, they are also telling an important, far-too-common story that highlights the human cost of immigration law.