The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Jun 27, 2011

Film Review: "A Better Life"

Posted by laflor

Illegal immigrants are human. This may seem like an obvious statement, but director Chris Weitz's film, "A Better Life," which opened last night to a packed audience at the historic Tower Theater on Calle Ocho for the Miami International Film Festival, won the hearts of the audience by putting a human face on the daily struggles of millions of undocumented workers in this country.

This tender and compassionate film is about a beaten-down and weary single dad, Carlos Galindo (masterfully played by actor Demian Bichir), who struggles to raise his defiant, yet good-at-heart, son Luis Galindo (Jose Julian) on a landscaper's salary. The gang-infested East L.A. neighborhood the father and son live in challenges their relationship and pushes the son to make a choice between gang life and another future.

In the hopes of creating a better life for his son, Carlos buys his ex-boss' landscaping truck and starts his own business. This investment ends up being a big mistake. When Carlos reaches out and hires a man who once offered him bread to work with him, the man steals Carlos' truck while Carlos is left dangling atop a giant palm tree. Desperate to get the truck back, Carlos and his son embark on a journey to South Central L.A., where a series of events leads Carlos to jail and a one-way bus trip back to Mexico.

What struck me about this film is the subtle power of Bichir's performance of a character that the screenwriter's carefully crafted to subvert the stereotype that (a majority of) Mexican fathers are brutish, macho drunks. When the film ended, Birchir received a well-deserved standing ovation. His performance alone makes me want to see the film again.

There is a scene in the film that also makes me want to see it again. Carlos readied himself to climb a massive palm tree, and his movements reminded me of an astronaut putting on a spacesuit. As Carlos climbs the tree, his careful, yet determined movements, reminded me of the movements astronauts make when performing dangerous repairs on the space shuttle. When he reached the top of the tree, he admired the million-dollar view of the American dream just like astronauts most likely admired Earth from space.

Undocumented workers are valuable. That's what "A Better Life" is about. They work in incredibly dangerous and dirty conditions on a daily basis. They are extraordinary and powerful through the ordinary things they do every day. "A Better Life" isn't just a better life per se. It's also about the rest of us, the documented, recognizing the astronomical value and role illegal immigrants play in maintaining our American dream.

For more info, tickets and schedules for the Miami International Film Festival, visit

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