The parable is about an undocumented Mexican gardener and his Americanborn teenage son struggling to survive in Los Angeles. When the story solidifies into their desperate search for a stolen truck, comparisons will be made to the 1948 Italian classic, “The Bicycle Thief.”
But, who cares? With sure, sensitive direction by Chris Weitz (the last lackluster “Twilight” movie), “A Better Life” boasts wrenching performances from Demian Bichir as the father, Carlos, and newcomer José Julián in the role of son Luis. Though Bichir is a seasoned Mexican thespian, his workaholic Carlos is so close to reality that he hardly seems to be acting. He is a man who believes in the American dream and prays that his son will as well.
Slipping into trouble and tenancy at his middle school, Luis has only contempt for his menial laboring old man. The temptation is to hook up with one of the tattooed street gangs, who beckon with talk of easy money.
Carlos’ big break comes in the form of his own truck, acquired through borrowed bucks from his housemaid sister, Anita (Dolores Heredia). A chance to build up a business is offset by his lack of a green card and a driver’s license, which would mean deportation to the authorities.
The sudden theft of the truck by a trusted co-worker has one positive repercussion: A father-son bond to bring it back. The ensuing odyssey transforms Dad from peon to hero in his son’s eyes, a revelation that makes the final tragedy bearable.
Go see “A Better Life.” It’s the best.