Movie Review: "A Better Life" by Nathan Hinds

"A Better Life", directed by Chris Weitz ("American Pie", "About a Boy") is a 2011 film starring Demian Bichir with a running time of 110 minutes. 

This film has been out for awhile, though Bichir’s Academy Award nomination for Best Actor came as one of the surprise nominations of this year, so I figured not many people have seen this film yet. The story is pretty straight forward. Carlos (Bichir) is an illegal alien working in the United States just trying to support him and his son. When Carlos’ boss decides to buy a farm, he offers to sell Carlos the company truck, along with the tools and clients of his landscaping business, virtually turning over the business to Carlos. This provides the financial stability Carlos has been working towards for him and his son.  He also hopes that it will allow him to save up enough money to allow him to hire a lawyer that can secure his papers he needs to become a legal citizen. And more important than anything, it will give Carlos the means to hopefully give his son the opportunities that he never had.

I’ll start off with Bichir’s performance, since it was the only reason I had for watching this movie. He did a fine job, but I could think of so many other performances this year that we so much more deserving of an Oscar nomination. I didn’t really see what made his performance stand out above so many other roles that, in my opinion, were more original and challenging - Ryan Gosling ("Drive") and Michael Shannon ("Take Shelter") come to mind. I don’t want to give the impression that it wasn’t a good role, I really was rooting for things to work out for his character, but there was zero wow factor for his role, meaning he never really showed a wide range of emotions. There were plenty of moments in the film that you thought you would see a spark set off but it just never happened.

Even though I don’t think Bichir’s performance was worthy of a Best Acting nod, I really did enjoy the movie as a whole. Regardless of your opinions on illegal aliens, it is fascinating to see how they live their lives day to day. They scrape by with whatever job they can find hoping to make enough to eat and have a place to live, but constantly having to be as discrete as possible. The sacrifice that they make is pretty extraordinary. Carlos has no delusions of becoming wealthy. His only goal is to earn enough money so that his son has the chance to become successful in life. If his son becomes successful, then all the risk of coming to America and the back-breaking work days were well worth it.

See the film and let me know what you think.