The absence of grit in A Better Life is more about director Chris Weitz taking a thought experiment out for a spin than any lack of nerve. All the space that a story of migrant workers and familial strife would normally fill with hand-held camerawork and hard-core frowning gets used instead for deliberately lush photography of some very un-lush bits of East Los Angeles and a sweeping score by Alexandre Desplat. Much of the rest is occupied by the very fine Demian Bichir, honest self-sacrifice oozing from every pore in exactly the way it didn’t when he played Fidel Castro as a self-propelled agent of revolution in Steven Soderbergh’s Che a while back. Weitz’s tactic of addressing the immigrant experience through colour and music and high production values rather than friction and noise and aggression is clearly deliberate, the work of a man who knows whose shoulders he stands on. So naturally he’s getting some stick for it.
My talk with Chris Weitz about the film and why he made it the way he did is now online at Little White Lies.