Carlos Galindo (Demian Bichir) wants nothing more than to provide his son, Luis (Jose Julian), with the life he himself never had. An illegal alien who has lived in the US for many years, Carlos works as a gardener and keeps his head down, always mindful of what deportation would mean for his son. Luis, meanwhile, is a typically rebellious teenager who doesn’t understand or appreciate his father’s sacrifices and who is on the brink of joining the local gang. When Carlos’ boss planning to leave the gardening business and head home, he offers to sell his truck and equipment to his loyal employee. Desperate to make something happen for himself, Carlos accepts the offer and goes into business for himself, a risk he normally would not take. But when the truck is stolen by a day laborer, Carlos and Luis go on a journey to recover their property and in the process, rebuild the relationship that they’ve both sorely missed.
I think it was a surprise to many to find Demian Bichir’s name among those nominated for Best Actor at this year’s Academy Awards. On a list that includes Gary Oldman, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and eventual winner Jean Dujardin, Bichir seemed a bit out of place, especially considering some of the great work done by accomplished actors who were not recognized by the academy (Ryan Gosling, Michael Shannon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, etc.). This is one of those situations, however, that demands a viewing before judgment because, having now seen A Better Life, I can certainly understand the Academy’s decision. Simply put, this is a heartfelt, power house performance by an actor that perfectly embodies his role. Carlos encapsulates elements of heartbreak and hope, misfortune and motivation and in doing so creates a deeply layered and personal portrayal. Bichir plays Carlos with subtlety, acting as much with his eyes as with his words, giving notice of the internal conflict waging within the man throughout his various struggles. It is truly an outstanding performance and one that carries significant weight.