Generational conflicts are nothing new. Yet director Chris Weitz’s film refuses to wallow in sentimentality or cliché. Instead, he paints a sobering portrait of one divided family that makes for a short course on the immigration debate. Galindo has been in the United States for years, but because he snuck into the country, he is caught in a jurisdictional shadow world. He is honest, dedicated, industrious — and illegal. But Galindo’s son was born here, making him a U.S. citizen. So the boy, with no ties to his father’s homeland, cannot fathom his dad’s up-by-the-bootstraps immigrant mentality.
How all this works out onscreen is what makes the film something special. In a heartbreaking scene, he explains to Luis the fatherly love that, for years before he bought the vehicle, drove him to get up every morning and stand on street corners hoping for a low-wage work as a day laborer. If he’s sent back to “the other side,” what will happen to his child?
By the end of A Better Life, that question is resolved, but it’s not a resolution that guarantees closure. And that, after all, may be the film’s greatest success. By giving a human face to a contentious dialogue, it forces us to ask ourselves questions about compassion and empathy for society’s underdogs. Is Carlos Galindo unworthy of our respect? Or is he the kind of person whose hard work makes the United States stronger? It’s not hard to figure out what side of the issue this haunting and beautiful film comes down on.
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