A Better Life is Not Easy: A Recommendation from Steve

A Better Life is a movie about the relationship between a father and a son. The father’s deepest desire is to provide a better life for his son. This will not be easy because the father is an illegal Mexican immigrant working as a landscaper in Los Angeles. The father lives in fear of getting caught and having his dream come crashing down. This is also, then, a movie about the immigration difficulties that we face as a nation. I highly recommend this movie because it helps to put a human face on a situation that is a mess. For the most part the movie is quite evenhanded, but my guess is that liberals will like it more than conservatives. Nonetheless, I do recommend it for everyone, no matter what your political leanings might be or what you might think  the solution to the immigration problem might be. The movie does not preach about a proper solution. It seeks, as I’ve said, to put a human face on the problem, which will hopefully help us all to be more compassionate as we seek a solution we all can live with.

Demian Bichir, who plays Carlos, the father, is nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars. His performance definitely does have a subtle power to it. His facial expressions reveal emotions of great range and depth. His quietly beautiful acting is deserving of the nomination, but still somewhat surprising given its subtlety. Jose Julian gives a solid performance as his son, Luis. Carlos Linares does a stellar job as Santiago, a man who works with Carlos. His role points to one of the strengths of the film. He does a bad thing, but he does it out of desperation, not simply because he is a bad person. Overall, the characters, even the minor ones, are not simply stereotypes. They reveal the complexity of life. The immigrants are not simply presented as noble people who should be allowed a free pass into our country. Some are good, some are bad, but none simply so. On the other hand, the immigration officers are not presented as unfeeling beasts. They show compassion in the midst of doing a difficult job.

Carlos, though, is presented quite clearly as a good man. His life exudes grace. He cares deeply for his son. He works hard and honestly. Most importantly, when given an opportunity to exact revenge on someone who has wronged him he chooses compassion, if not quite forgiveness. In doing so, he teaches his son a lesson that just might save him from the gang life that Carlos so fears will entrap his son. We can all learn a bit about grace from Carlos. Chris Weitz, who also directed About a Boy, leads with a steady hand. There is nothing flashy here, which serves this relationship-based story well. The ending is vaguely hopeful, which is also fitting given the complexity of the issue.


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