A Better Life
Movies like A Better Life are a karmic way of appeasing the movie gods for a movie making system that cranks out dozens of usual suspect programmers. A Better Life echoes Italian neo-realism with its depiction of societal pathos and recalls select movies in American cinema like El Norte.
Director Chris Weitz has more than adequately cut his teeth helming everything from American Pie to The Golden Compass to one of the Twilight movies (New Moon). Weitz has also paid dues as a noticeable actor in indie films like the rather weird Chuck & Buck. However nothing Weitz has done prepares you for the stark reality of A Better Life. You won’t recognize a single actor in A Better Life yet every scene will rivet you in the communal way that all things of a universal aspect appeal to everyone in an ecumenical sense.
A single father struggles through a series of menial jobs to support himself and his uncaring teen son. Compounding the facts of Carlos’ (Demian Bichir) predicament – he’s living in Los Angeles as an illegal alien and fears deportment almost as great as he fears his son not getting a proper education. Carlos gets a relative who has citizenship to loan him several thousand cash that he uses to buy a truck, four wheels of salvation that can haul a lawn mower and tools of the trade.
Bichir bursts forth on the screen with a compassionate performance that captures the hearts and minds of viewers. Weitz has made a masterful film that doesn’t editorialize so much as capture events in a flat manner. The photography takes this into account and offers framing that silhouettes characters in shallow focus at night. There’s another montage to shows L.A. street life choreographed to the setting sun. You’ve seen few things as beautiful and DP Javier Aquirresarobe should be singled out among the fantastic accolades for A Better Life. Weitz even got his composer from Golden Compass (and New Moon), Alexandre Desplat to conduct a score that will set standards for how to use music in films.
— Michael Bergeron