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A Better Life (2011)

PG-13  |   |  Drama  |  28 July 2011 (Thailand)
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 12,615 users   Metascore: 64/100
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A gardener in East L.A. struggles to keep his son away from gangs and immigration agents while trying to give his son the opportunities he never had.



(screenplay), (story)
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 6 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Eddie 'Piolin' Sotelo
Blasco Martinez
Mrs. Donnelley
Ruthie Valdez
School Security Officer
Juvie Officer
School Secretary
Truck Driver


Carlos Galindo is a decent man, a Mexican single parent working as a gardener in California to raise Luis,his fourteen-year-old son,whom Carlos is frightened will drift into local gang culture. Carlos buys a truck for his work with money loaned by his sister but a shifty new employee steals it from him and,though Carlos and Luis track the thief down,he has sold the truck. Father and son bond as they reclaim the vehicle from the pound but Carlos attracts police attention,making his future in America uncertain when it is discovered that he is an illegal immigrant. Written by don @ minifie-1

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

gang | truck | gardener | police | money | See All (243) »


Every father wants more for his son



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some violence, language and brief drug use | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:




Release Date:

28 July 2011 (Thailand)  »

Also Known As:

The Gardener  »

Filming Locations:

Box Office


$10,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$62,087 (USA) (24 June 2011)


$1,754,319 (USA) (26 August 2011)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Director Chris Weitz liked to do all the dangerous scenes in the script before he asked his cast to perform them. A stunt double taught Weitz and Demian Bichir how to climb a palm tree, and although Weitz was first to successfully climb one, Bichir did go on to film all the scenes himself, without a stunt double. Weitz told the audience at a SAG Screening: "That is why in my films there are not many scenes that require stunt doubles". See more »


When Carlos is chasing his stolen truck, he has his climbing belt in his hand. When he gives up and walks away, his hands are empty. See more »


Carlos Galindo: This country is a land of dreams. It can be a hard place, a cruel place. But it's where I work, and I dream of a better place for my son.
See more »


Featured in Maltin on Movies: Bad Teacher (2011) See more »


Written by Casey Romero, Kelly Sheehan, Monte Neuble and Phillip Laney Stewart
Performed by La La
Courtesy of Peer-Southern Productions, Inc./Music Gallery/Stewart Music Group
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Examining Lives - A Father and Son Love Story
24 October 2011 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

A BETTER LIFE is one of the more understated films to come out of Hollywood, a film that has the courage to tell a story that is so politically charged - the immigration debate - that releasing it now is on the one hand asking for negative responses and on the other hand offers to the public the real truths behind our quandary about immigration. This country consists of immigrants - all of us - no matter how far back we have to trace our ancestry: the only people who did not begin their family history as immigrants from every country in the world and the Native Americans, and look how we are treating them! If this film does nothing else than plead the case of human understanding it will have accomplished more than legions of films that touch this subject too lightly.

Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir, in an extraordinarily fine performance) crossed the border into the US with his new wife, looking for a way to improve his life. Upon arriving his wife gave birth to their son Luis (José Julián) and then promptly left Carlos in search of a better life, leaving Carlos to raise Luis alone. Carlos is an honest, caring man who must live in the shadow of being illegal: he cannot have a driver's license or papers that allow him the benefits of other people. Carlos has a steady job as a gardener with Blasco (Joaquín Cosio) who owns a truck and the two men work hard as gardeners.

When the film opens Carlos is saving is money from working with Blasco, living in a tiny house in the smarmy side of Los Angeles, trying to provide better schooling for his 15 year old Luis. Luis is of the age when he is easily influenced by his peers: his best friend is Ramon (Gabriel Chavarria) who is waiting to be of age to join the gang and forget about school in lieu of making money and living high. Luis is tempted to follow him, but he still attends school despite frequent absences and disinterest in education. Carlos is faced with a dilemma: Blasco wants to leave the business of gardening and suggests Carlos buy his truck and tools and start his own business. While Carlos sees the future in owning his own business (he can provide hope for a better life for Luis) he doesn't have enough money saved to buy the truck. His sister, indebted to Carlos for his protection and help, brings him her savings and Carlos buys the truck. Luis is surprised and then proud of his father's courage, but the happiness is short lived as one of the day laborers Carlos befriended - Santiago (Carlos Linares) - steals the truck, sells it on the black market and sends the money to his family in Mexico. It is this moment that provides an important turn for the relationship between Carlos and Luis. Luis bonds with his father and together they manage to locate the truck and take it back, only to be caught by the police for driving without a windshield. Carlos is jailed, Luis is devastated, but as Carlos is deported Luis pleads with him to 'come back home'. The film's ending tests the credibility a bit but it is heartwarming nevertheless.

The story as written by Eric Eason and Roger L. Simon is genuinely real and never veers toward the maudlin. They have created characters who not only demonstrate the importance of father son understanding and relationships, but they have approached the entire gamut of immigrant challenges and the manner in which this country deals with current immigrants in an honest manner. Without waving banners for or against immigration problems director Chris Weitz offers us the opportunity to see life from a different angle. One of the reasons this movie is so powerful in its impact and message is due to the brilliant performance by Demián Bichir, hopefully a candidate for an Oscar, and his performance is beautifully balanced by that of José Julián as his son. The film is scored by Alexandre Desplat and the music greatly enhances the rhythms of the story. There is such worth in this film that it would be wise for everyone in this country to view it - and remember our individual heritages and histories. Grady Harp

13 of 16 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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