At first I was worried A Better Life would be an “important” movie educating all of us on the plight of immigrant families. It starts out that way but becomes a real thriller with intense stakes, against the backdrop of a relevant social issue.
Carlos works in landscaping to support his son Luis. He buys the company truck from his retiring boss so that he can own the business and build a really solid future, a better life for his son. The truck just leads to more problems.
When Carlos’s situation turns bad, it’s really intense. One untrustworthy day laborer risks Carlos’s life and steals his truck. It’s even rougher because there’s no recourse. Carlos is illegal, he can’t go to the cops. Here, the film really puts us in the intensity of this life. It’s one thing to say it’s hard to be an immigrant, but to show how the most noble efforts can become an immense burden in an instant, that’s drama.
Carlos and Luis go looking for the thief, and here is where street-wise Luis can help. He overdoes it with the gang banger bravado but he has a little more savvy. He also sees the reality of how other immigrants live, who have it even worse than he does. It makes me appreciate the options I have. If someone steals my car, I just call Geico.
Carlos maintains good values throughout this hardship. He still honors his word. Even the people who wrong him are just trying to get ahead for their own families. Carlos just won’t do it at someone else’s expense. Luis asks the tough questions too. Why do poor people have so many kids, or any kids at all? Carlos has no answer for that.
This is drama. There are no solutions, only more problems. Even getting the truck back turns out to expose them to more trouble. It gets you into that headspace of always looking over your shoulder, because each day is borrowed time.