A Better Life

A Better Life is a 2011 Mexican-American drama film directed by Chris Weitz and written by Eric Eason. It is based on Roger L. Simon's story and follows an illegal American immigrant gardener and his son finding their stolen rent-to-own truck. Demián Bichir was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor.

A Better Life
A Better Life.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byChris Weitz
Produced byPaul Junger Witt
Christian McLaughlin
Chris Weitz
Jami Gertz
Screenplay byEric Eason
Story byRoger L. Simon
StarringDemián Bichir
Music byAlexandre Desplat
CinematographyJavier Aguirresarobe
Edited byPeter Lambert
Lime Orchard Productions
Distributed bySummit Entertainment
Release date
  • June 24, 2011 (2011-06-24)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million[1]
Box office$1,759,252[1]


Carlos Galindo works as a gardener in Los Angeles with his partner, Blasco. His son, Luis, studies at high school. Luis spends time with his girlfriend, who is affiliated with gang members. The gang members pressure him to join them. On one occasion Luis is suspended for having assaulted another high school student.

Carlos' sister, Anita, lends $12,000 from the family's emergency fund for Carlos to buy Blasco's truck. It is later stolen by Santiago, whom Carlos hired. The next day, Carlos and Luis head to the South Central apartment complex, which is used as lodgings for undocumented immigrant workers. One man tells the two that Santiago works as a nightclub dishwasher. Carlos and Luis head to the restaurant, which would open during the night. At the rodeo, Carlos mentions to Luis about his mother abandoning them. Luis mentions that he dislikes Mexican music and culture. After finding Santiago at the nightclub, Carlos and Luis interrogate him in the parking lot. They learn that he has sold the truck to the garage and sent the money to his family in El Salvador. When Santiago pleads not guilty, Luis becomes upset with Carlos for defending him, and leaves. The next day, Carlos convinces Luis to go with him to the place where Santiago had sold the truck. After they successfully retrieve the truck, they are stopped by the police.

Carlos is arrested and incarcerated as an illegal American immigrant. Luis visits the detention center, and reconciles with his father. After promising Luis that he will return, Carlos boards the deportation bus.

'Four Months Later...' Luis is shown spending time with Anita and her family (having stayed out of gang activities.) Meanwhile, Carlos and other migrants are shown traveling through the desert on foot. They are being led by a 'coyote' smuggler, presumably northward.



The film is uncommon among Hollywood productions as it is set in a Hispanic community and features an almost entirely Hispanic cast.[2] Weitz used the film to explore the culture and geography of Los Angeles. Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries, run by former gang members, helped Weitz and his crew with finding locations and making their film as authentic as possible. The language of the script was modified to reflect the actual slang used in Los Angeles, even reflecting linguistic differences from street to street.[2]


The film was released on June 24, 2011.

Critical receptionEdit

Critical response to A Better Life has been positive. The film has garnered an 86% "fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus reads: "Powered by a terrific performance from Demián Bichir, A Better Life is an immigrant story told with simplicity and an ample amount of heart."[3] The critical aggregator Metacritic awarded the film a score of 64 out of 100, signifying "generally positive reviews".[4] Manohla Dargis, film critic for The New York Times, called the film "Touching and startling."[5] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called the film "a haunting movie that gets under your skin."[6] Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Dave Karger called A Better Life an "unfussy, yet quite powerful drama with a terrific central performance by Demián Bichir." Karger called the film an "awards contender" and wrote, "With the right reviews and commercial reception, it could go even further."[7]

Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote that "the performances are pitch perfect" and he gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4.[8] The New Yorker critic Richard Brody wrote: "The story unfolds without hagiography, pity, or trumped-up heroism, as the filmmaker approaches the lives of everyday people with modest compassion and imaginative sympathy.[9] Amy Biancolli, writing in the Houston Chronicle, said "It's straight, true and heartbreaking, a masterstroke of raw emotional minimalism".[10]


Award Category Recipient(s) Result
Academy Award Best Actor in a Leading Role Demián Bichir Nominated
Independent Spirit Award Best Male Lead Demián Bichir Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Demián Bichir Nominated
Young Artist Award[11] Best Performance in a Feature Film - Leading Young Actor José Julián Nominated

Telenovela versionEdit

Telemundo produced a telenovela adaptation, Bajo el mismo cielo, starring Gabriel Porras and María Elisa Camargo.[12][13] The series aired from July 28, 2015 to January 25, 2016.[14]


  1. ^ a b A Better Life at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ a b Cieply, Michael (June 1, 2010). "Another Los Angeles in 'Gardener'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 5, 2010. Retrieved June 2, 2010.
  3. ^ A Better Life at Rotten Tomatoes
  4. ^ A Better Life at Metacritic
  5. ^ Dargis, Manohla (June 23, 2011). "A Better Life". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Travers, Peter (June 23, 2011). "A Better Life". Rolling Stone Magazine.
  7. ^ Dave Karger (March 13, 2011). "'A Better Life': 2011's first awards movie?". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger. ""A Better Life" Review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved July 6, 2011.
  9. ^ Brody, Richard. "A Better Life Film Review". New Yorker Magazine. Retrieved June 19, 2011.
  10. ^ Biancolli, Amy. "A Better Life Film Review". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved July 4, 2011.
  11. ^ "33rd Annual Young Artist Awards". YoungArtistAwards.org. Archived from the original on April 4, 2012. Retrieved March 31, 2012.
  12. ^ Telemundo. "Carlos Martínez" (in Spanish). Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  13. ^ Gabriel Porras. "Gracias cómplices por el gran apoyo a este humilde jardinero!!! Va con todo para ustedes!!!!!" (in Spanish). Twitter. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  14. ^ ""Bajo el mismo cielo", la nueva novela de Telemundo" (in Spanish). Telemundo. March 25, 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015.

External linksEdit