Written by John Oliver Santiago, VoiceWaves Journalist.
A film still from the film, A Better Life.
On March 15, the Museum of Latin American Art presented a free screening of the film A Better Life. Having secured an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, it was a definite treat for Long Beach residents. Simply put, it was a tour-de-force of emotions resonating with progressive-minded audiences.
The movie is centered on Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir), an undocumented immigrant, and his documented son Luis Galindo (José Julián). The driving force behind the plot is Carlos’s stolen truck, a pickup truck that he bought from his former employer with money his sister gave him. Carlos tells his son Luis after buying the truck, “This truck is my only chance to grow into something big. So we can move out of here and get you in a better school.” And that’s what the movie is truly about: a father and son striving to move up the social ladder.
The character of Carlos Galindo is a father yearning to give his son the American life and Director Chris Weitz perfectly portrays this early on as Carlos is being driven to his next landscaping job. Looking out of a truck with equipment in tow, actor Demián Bichir delivers a subtle and nuanced performance as his character is driven past the stereotypical Angelino life: surfers, neighborhoods filled with high-rises, sun-tanned comforts and joy. Watching the movie, it’s obvious what the Academy saw in Bichir’s performance. Combined with Weitz’s choice to drift into a documentary-esque style of filming, the restraint and strength of Bichir’s performance in portraying a man burdened with his undocumented status is on-par with any A-list performance.
Despite his undocumented status, Galindo is a man who sticks to his moral high ground and sense of honor. This is in stark contrast with Luis’s conflict: the temptations of being in a gang. With his girlfriend being a no-nonsense daughter from a gangster family and a “best friend” eager to join the same gang, Luis is a young man nearing the point-of-no-return. Actor José Julián was almost always out-classed by Bichir in all of their scenes together, but he holds his own for the most part in the film. He portrays Luis Galindo as a jaded young man slowly losing grip of his own sense of hope.
Overall, A Better Life is a good movie carried by Bichir’s acting. At certain points, it can delve into being overly-sentimental. But all in all, it humanizes some of our country’s most disempowered people by painting a wholesome image of their struggles. With a decent narrative and a great lead actor, it’s a gripping movie that really makes the audience feel Carlos Galindo’s emotions—all the heartaches and joys.