A Better Life

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A Better Life
A Better Life.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Chris Weitz
Produced by Paul Junger Witt
Christian McLaughlin
Chris Weitz
Jami Gertz
Screenplay by Eric Eason
Story by Roger L. Simon
Starring Demian Bichir
José Julián
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography Javier Aguirresarobe
Edited by Peter Lambert
Lime Orchard Productions
Distributed by Summit Entertainment
Release date
  • June 24, 2011 (2011-06-24)
Running time
94 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10 million[1]
Box office $1,759,252[1]

A Better Life is a 2011 American drama film directed by Chris Weitz. The screenplay, originally known as The Gardener, was written by Eric Eason based on a story by Roger L. Simon. Demián Bichir was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.


Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) works as a gardener with Blasco Martinez (Joaquín Cosio) in Los Angeles, California. Blasco wants to return to Mexico and continually tries to persuade Carlos to purchase his business from him, which includes the work truck and gardening tools. Carlos's son Luis (José Julián) is in high school and is dating Ruthie Valdez (Chelsea Rendon), the niece of a local gang leader. Luis regularly goes to her house after school where gang members congregate. Luis is embarrassed by his father and, although he does not wish to follow in his footsteps, he has a hard time committing himself to his education. However, his relationship with Ruthie and his friendship with Facundo (Bobby Soto) pushes him toward becoming a gang member.

Carlos asks his sister Anita (Dolores Heredia) for a loan to purchase Blasco's truck and tools. Anita lends Carlos $12,000, which comes out of her family's emergency fund. Carlos reluctantly accepts. He returns to a corner, where he used to look for work and hires Santiago (Carlos Linares). However, on the first day, Santiago steals the truck.

The next day, Carlos and Luis head out to find Santiago. A trip leads them to a South Central apartment complex. The apartment is used as lodgings for undocumented immigrant workers. One man, to whom Santiago sold Carlos’ cellphone, tells them that Santiago moonlights as a dishwasher at a nightclub. When they first go, the club is closed and they go to a nearby rodeo.

At the rodeo, Carlos and Luis talk about Luis’s feelings toward his culture and his family. Luis is bitter about his mother abandoning them. He does not like Mexican music or certain Mexican traditions. When the nightclub opens, Carlos finds Santiago washing dishes. Santiago runs away, but Luis is waiting outside and tackles him and brutally beats him until Carlos pulls Luis away. They discover that Santiago has sold the truck and sent the money to his family back home to El Salvador. Luis runs away since he feels Carlos betrayed him for defending the man who stole their opportunity of improving their lives.

The next day, Carlos goes looking for Luis and finds him at Facundo’s house. They argue, and Luis decides to stand by his father. They find the garage where Santiago sold the truck and steal it back. However, on their way home, they are pulled over by the police, and Carlos is arrested and incarcerated as an illegal immigrant. He is quickly processed, and Luis gets to the prison just before Carlos is about to board a deportation bus. The guards allow Luis and Carlos to see each other, and Carlos apologizes to Luis for not being there for him. Luis tells him he should not be sorry. Carlos makes Luis promise him that he will succeed in his studies and Luis makes Carlos promise him that he will return. They both agree and Luis and Anita watch Carlos board the deportation bus.

The film ends with Anita and his two cousins watching Luis' soccer game. In the final scene, Carlos is about to go into the desert with other undocumented immigrants and a coyote who says: “Listos, para el otro lado” - “Ready for the other side?”, Carlos responds, “Vamos a casa" - "Let’s go home.”



The film is uncommon among Hollywood productions in that 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 reception[edit]

Critical response to A Better Life has been positive. The film has garnered an 86% "fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes.[3] The critical aggregator Metacritic awarded the film a score of 64 out of 100, signifying "generally positive reviews".[4] Demián Bichir was nominated for an Academy Award as lead actor on Jan. 24, 2012. Manola 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 version[edit]

Telemundo produced a telenovela based on the film called Bajo el mismo cielo, starring Gabriel Porras and María Elisa Camargo.[12][13] The telenovela aired from July 28, 2015 – January 25, 2016 on Telemundo weeknights at 9pm/8pm central.[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, Manola (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). Telemunco.com. March 25, 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015. 

External links[edit]