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Better Life, A

7/10

Stars: Demian Bichir, José Julián, Chelsea Rendon, Dolores Heredia, Joaquin Cosio, Carlos Linares, Isabella Rae Thomas

Director: Chris Weitz

Weitz’s essentially bleak film has frequently been critically compared to de Sica’s 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves, usually to its detriment which is understandable since it is (a) American and (b) not subtitled throughout, which, of course, prevents it from being significant. That said, Weitz and scenarist Eric Eason (from a story by Roger L Simon) deliver a powerful and often moving examination of the fraught lives of illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States.

Here illegal Bichir works as a gardener in Los Angeles and, with his wife having left him, tries to make life good for his surly teenage son Julian who, born in America, is now at high school and veering towards joining an ethnic street gang. Then, hoping to make enough money on his own, Bichir buys the truck from his employer, only to have his hopes dashed when the vehicle is stolen, leaving father and son finally to bond as they hunt for the villain¬Ö

Weitz, straying with success into artfilm territory, depicts the frailty of the American Dream with commendable lack of sentimentality which makes Bichir¬ís ultimate plight at the hands of unfeeling officialdom all the more affecting. The leads are excellent, the use of non-professional actors in supporting roles works well. So ¬Ė perhaps without making all that could be made of the basic situations ¬Ė does the film.

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: Entertainment One. Colour by deluxe.
98 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 29 Jul 2011