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A Better Life (12A)

Starring: Demiá* Bichir, José Julián

Anthony Quinn
Friday 29 July 2011 00:00 BST

The surprise of this immigrant's tale is that it's directed not by, say, John Sayles but Chris Weitz, hot from the box-office sizzle of the Twilight saga.

Good for him that he's still willing to take on modest projects like this, even if it doesn't pack quite the punch one hopes for. Carlos (Demiá* Bichir) toils as an itinerant gardener, risking his life to trim perilously tall palm trees in the affluent suburbs of LA. Nobody pays him danger money, either – he's an illegal immigrant, part of the city's huge invisible (and uninsurable) workforce. A decent, hardworking man, Carlos wants something better for his teenage son Luis (José Julián), whose volatile moods are less worrying than his drift towards the fringes of Latino gang culture. The plot revolves around the purchase of a truck – Carlos's tentative step towards financial security – and the desperate search after it's stolen from under his nose. Will it be the occasion for a long-delayed filial bonding or the precursor to a greater calamity? Eric Eason's script aims for simplicity of expression, which sometimes sounds merely pat, or even banal, and the oppositional forces facing the poor immigrant – hardscrabble labour versus gang criminality – are somewhat crudely outlined. It is sincerely and honourably made, with a lovely performance by Bichir as the long-suffering Carlos, but a little more nuance would not have gone amiss.

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