Published Jul 14, 2011As far as derivative and schematic political humanitarian pleas go, A Better Life is somewhat less crass, contrived and schmaltzy than, say, Crash or Crossing Over, which is the nicest thing to be said about a Mexican illegal immigration drama that features the overly forced on-screen graffiti, "Too Many Mexicans. Not Enough Bullets."
This, like many of the sidebar conveniences sprinkled throughout this glorified cable distraction, exists to outrage an audience forced into a perspective and opinion about overly idealized and exceedingly unrealistic characters – or caricatures, rather – since real people are harder to care about.
With self-sacrificial sincerity, Carlos (Demián Bichir) awakes every morning on his couch wearing work gear from the day before, never spending money on himself, in an effort to make a "better life" for his son, Luis (José Julián). His overwhelming kindness and trust are syrupy sweet, in a Touched by an Angel capacity, exacerbated by his tendency to reiterate his Spanish musings with a proper English explanation for a gringo audience.
And, of course, with the overriding pedagogical nature of this cinematic endeavour looming, his saintly disposition is prime for victimization, as his world crashes down after his truck is stolen and his son falls victim to the lure of the immediate gratification of the gang lifestyle in East L.A.
Director Chris Weitz's (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) approach to this sudsy, heavy-handed material is thankfully somewhat confined and literal, focusing on geography and linear progression, rather than slow motion, emotional shots and pandering juxtaposition.
While this ultimately reduces A Better Life to television fare, making it little more than an exercise in introductory narrative progression, it at least calms some of the nausea that stems from clichéd characters walking through a rote, sanctimonious and ultimately solipsistic, liberal platform. (eOne)