Friday, July 8, 2011

Chris Weitz: New American Realism (A Better Life)

Demian Bichir, Jose Julian, A Better Life,Summit Entertainment.

For every writer and director with vacant dreams of creating a resonant work which speaks to man and country, Chris Weitz and Eric Eason have effortlessly engendered one of the most important pictures of the year. A Better Life not only empowers a majority mainly excluded from portrayal in the cineplexes, but both criticizes and loves our country in all its spiralling complexity. They do what great filmmakers do best, namely lay bare the truth through the kino eye.

A Better Life contains the rhythms, cadences and calamities of life in the inner city of Los Angeles, its noises and colors, as seen through the eyes of two men, a hardworking, good hearted illegal and his teenage son, struggling against the grain of poverty and crime in their neighborhood. So simply is this tale told and so powerfully in each aspect, that a few missteps are taken in stride. The overall impact is shattering.

Weitz, one half of the Brothers behind American Pie and American Dreamz, has forged out on his own and his voice is clear, his eye cutting. After the entertaining fantasy epic The Golden Compass and the deadly dull New Moon, he has hit his mark and we realize we are in the hands of a great storyteller, possibly a future master. He is not only a versatile visionary, but his passions and themes become crystalline within. As in his best work, the affecting About a Boy, Weitz speaks to us of family, alienation, socialization, fathers and sons.

The two lead actors are inseparable from the fluid power of the picture. Demian Bichir rises from the ranks of character actor in Steven Soderbergh's Che to lead status with his wrenching, beautifully calibrated turn as the father. The emotion in his weather beaten face betrays a diamond soul. Jose Julian is fresh and deeply felt as his torn son. Together, their chemistry is a force to be felt. They are the heart of the film, we can see their hearts on their sleeves, in their very faces. This is the most natural, realistic, the best acting of the year.

Javier Aguirresarobe's lens follows their trek through the city, steeped in the shades of the day and the color of the night, as we wonder at Weitz's effortless glide from docudrama to melodrama to suspense film. The main influence is Vittorio De Sica's Neo-realist tale of fatherhood and loss, Bicycle Thieves. But more so than this, his influence is the cultural climate of our country, of wretched immigration policies. Alexandre Desplat's sublime score accompanies these men on their journey, lilting while cleverly incorporating pieces from the ethnic milieu.

This all is bound together by Weitz's strong hand, firm and unshakable. He has birthed his greatest film, one of the most vital pieces of celluloid audiences must, but most likely won't, see. He lifts us up on high while our feet remain on the theater floor.

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