Chris Weitz has come a long way since he unofficially co-directed American Pie
with his brother Paul in 1999. Having pulled out of the raunchy teen comedy genre in pretty short order, he's been a reliable craftsman of interesting work that includes About a Boy, The Golden Compass
, and New Moon
. With A Better Life
, Weitz makes another shift of gears to the indie front. Here he tells the heartbreaking yet gently observed story of a Mexican man living illegally in Los Angeles with his teenage son while trying to scrape out a literal embodiment of the movie's title for them both. A Better Life
uses a quiet and methodical narrative structure to portray a few days in the life of Carlos, a man who truly believes in the opportunity he can create by working hard and following the moral character running deep within him--if not for himself, then certainly for his son Luis. He's hooked up with a friend who owns a pick-up truck, a few lawnmowers, and basic landscaping tools, and the two of them spend long days manicuring the manses of greater Los Angeles. Carlos lives in a tiny house, barely scraping by and with his head always bowed against the threat of his illegal status. 16-year-old Luis is a good kid, but on the at-risk side of falling in with a gang unless Carlos can instill the kind of principled existence he believes in, no matter how downtrodden they feel. When his boss offers to sell Carlos the truck and "the business," he agonises over the risk, but gets a loan from his sister and beams at the prospect of finally making a move that may one day lead to the kind of success in America he envisions. But bad luck strikes early and often for Carlos.
A large chunk of the film is devoted to his search to retrieve the stolen truck with the help of Luis, a sequence that captures all the despair, doggedness, and nuance of character that Carlos and Luis bring to bear on their struggle in life and their relationship with each other. The precise and tidy formal style of Carlos's journey and all the things and people he encounters become both expository and revelatory in bringing him to life as a dedicated man who won't give up no matter how difficult or even hopeless the effort may seem. Demián Bichir's performance as Carlos anchors this humble, melancholy, yet huge-hearted film about faith, optimism, and the promise of making life better for the most genuine of reasons. --Ted Fry
Carlos Galindo always dreamed of a better life for his son Luis when he crossed the border into the U.S. But after years of trying to set an example for his son, Luis has become an impressionable American teen, unwilling to work for the things that he wants in life. In a desperate attempt to save his son from the dangerous path he s about to choose, Carlos invests in his own gardening business, with far-reaching consequences.