A Better Life (2011) – Chris Weitz

Effective family drama directed like a thriller about a Mexican immigrant and the cultural divide between himself and his American-born son. Not only is it an affecting story about the immigrant experience, it works as a generational essay and a lesson about poverty. The movie completely worked on me and the highest praise I can heap on it would be is that I couldn’t shake the image of Bicycle Thieves while watching A Better Life. I’m sure the movie was inviting that comparison as the plot is too similar (the father has his car stolen, his ability to survive, and he feels forced to steal it back with his young son in tow) but A Better Life earns the comparison with its fine performances, particularly from Demián Bichir as the father. The edges are smoothed out and it has too much of an after school special feeling to it, but I was kept engaged and was often moved. The poor being further cast in their lot is like fish in a barrel for empathy but the movie wisely avoids melodrama and overwrought circumstances. There’s a scene at the end that casts a false note (by no fault of the performers, it just doesn’t belong) but I can’t fault a Hollywood movie for having a Hollywood ending. Believe me if every Hollywood movie had at least as much thought and feeling as this one, movies would be in much better shape.

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