Oscar-Nominated Portrayal of an Illegal Immigrant from Mexico

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on February 17, 2012

The movie "A Better Life" is the story of an illegal immigrant gardener from Mexico who struggles nobly through a series of indignities as he strives to maintain his dignity and guide his confused son through a gang-sickened landscape in East Los Angeles.

The story sounds like a cliche. To a great extent it is. But Demian Bichir's performance as Carlos Galindo is tautly graceful, powerful, and eloquent. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune noted, Bichir "delivers an inspired performance that lifts a banal drama to the next level."

Bichir, who is well known in Mexico, is quickly achieving fame in the U.S. He richly deserves the Oscar nomination that this year puts him alongside Brad Pitt and George Clooney in the competition for best actor honors.

As Carlos grapples with his son's predicament, the betrayal of another worker, the perplexities of Los Angeles, and the mounting complexities of his own illegal status, Bichir never reaches too far or makes a false move.

If you believe that movies and other forms of popular culture often propagate perverse cultural patterns, you'll be heartened by Carlos Galindo. He demands – with loving ferocity and integrity and consistency – that his son do what it takes to be a good man, to live a better life.

In real-life East LA, the gang members whose nihilism the movie half-heartedly portrays, inhabit a world from which loving fathers are often disastrously absent. Demian Bichir may even convince some of them that there is indeed a better life. I'll be rooting for him on Oscar night.