Thursday, July 7, 2011

A story about life on the margins

Although immigration remains a hotly debated topic, few movies have tried to portray the daily lives of those who come to the U.S. in search of economic opportunity. Credit A Better Life with rising to the challenge with a simple, if sometimes melodramatic, story about a father who's trying to establish a better life for himself and his adolescent son. *** Director Chris Weitz, who has been responsible for mega-movies (The Twilight Saga: New Moon), does two things in this modestly scaled indie: He tells a mostly affecting story, and he moves us through parts of Los Angeles that don't often yield themselves to the camera's eye. *** Carlos (Demian Bichir) is an undocumented Mexican who works as a gardner. Carlos' struggle to make ends meet doesn't leave him much time for his 14-year-old son (Jose Julian). *** The movie flirts with questions about whether Julian's Luis will fall into gang life, but never gives into cliches about it. *** Weitz builds a story about father/son reconciliation around the search for a stolen truck, and he obtains fine performances from his leads: Bichir brings stoic presence to the role of a single father who struggles to survive while trying not to cut ethical corners; Julian displays the right blend of adolescent anger and innate decency as he searches for his place in the world. *** No need overselling, but A Better Life should be seen by table-thumpers on all sides of the immigration question. Without posturing, Weitz has told a deeply human story that's interested in more than the border that divides the U.S. and Mexico; it's also interested in the borders that can divide a father and son who grew up in very different worlds.

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