Saturday, May 19, 2012

Film Review: A Better Life (2011)

A Better Life

Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 98 min
Genre: Drama

Tomato Meter: 85%

Cast overview, first billed only:

Demián Bichir as Carlos Galindo (Our Hero!)
Eddie 'Piolin' Sotelo as Himself (Our Cameo Celebrity!)
Joaquín Cosio as Blasco Martinez (Our Important Character!)
José Julián as Luis Galindo (Our Hero's Loyal Son!)
Nancy Lenehan as Mrs. Donnely (Our Pretty Much A Nobody!)
Gabriel Chavarria as Ramon (Our Other Latin!)
Bobby Soto as Facundo (Our Other Latin!)
Chelsea Rendon as Ruthie Valdez (Our Hot Latino Gang Banger Girl!)
Trampas Thompson as School Security Officer (Our School Security Officer, Without Whom The School Would Be Insecure!)
Tim Griffin as Juvie Officer (Our Authority Figure)
Valorie Hubbard as School Secretary (Our - what? She's playing a school secretary.)
Dolores Heredia as Anita (Our Other Heroine!)
Isabella Rae Thomas as Linda (Our Other Important Part!)
Carlos Linares as Santiago (Our Nasty Hombre!)
Robert Peters as Truck Driver (Our Truck Driver!)

If you're looking for a film that you can watch without getting bored out of your mind and that will make your girlfriend tear up and get pissed off at the world, well... this is as close as you're going to get.  Keep reading to find out why, without spoilers.

I wish I could honestly say that I found this film all by myself, but I didn't.  My amigo Manuel, whom I wrote about in On being ostracized, suggested that I watch it and tell him my thoughts.  Last Saturday I collected Mom, Main Lady and Flopsy and we all watched the film together.  Good stuff.

The film deals with Mexican citizens who are in the United States without benefit of a visa.  Illegals.  Wet backs.  Lower than minimum wage slaves.  Most of the Mexicans shown in the film play illegals, and they do a good job at it.  The acting is understated throughout the entire film, with Carlos (the protagonist) clearly making choices based on necessity as dictated by the box he has chosen to live in.  Carlos makes it clear he chose this life because as tough as it is, it's better than Mexico.

The film addresses societal problems without hyperbole, stereotype characters or Pollyanna platitudes.  The characters are clearly drawn from real life and are not perfect.  Life is tough.  People have choices to make, and indecision is a clearly marked choice - generally a bad one.  None of the characters bothers cursing the US government for unfairness or discrimination (real, exaggerated or imagined).  Instead, the people accept the environment the way it is and work within it.

One interesting point I think is worth noting is that the actors do all their own stunts.  This includes climbing a palm tree with a climbing belt and spurs, which Demián Bichir as Carlos had to do.  One of my favorite scenes has Carlos up in the air trimming a palm tree while his boss Blasco (Joaquín Cosio) is on the ground reassuring the norteamericano client that everything is safe, we have plenty of insurance and this is the way it's done in Mexico.  Carlos responds in Spanish that, "if it's so safe, why aren't you up here fat ass?"  This reminds me of some of the people I've worked for.

The sets are in and around Los Angeles, mostly in the poorer section with the clients living in the wealthier section.  Check out real estate prices for Los Angeles sometime and you'll come to the understanding that any yard larger than a postage stamp denotes enormous wealth.  Yards larger than a putting green indicates wealth that approaches the dreams of avarice.  I was surprised that none of the characters show any envy for this kind of wealth.  They accept it as a part of the environment they live in, and that's that.

If you're in the mood for something a little out of the ordinary, I recommend this film as a viable selection without hesitation.

I rate this film as a solid 8.

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