Thursday Trailer Face-Off! A Better Life vs. In a Better World

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Published March 24, 2011

 

Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: A Better Life and In a Better World, two dramas about complicated fathers who just want—you guessed it!—better things for their sons.

 

PremiseIn A Better Life, Carlos is an illegal-immigrant landscaper living in East L.A. and trying to make sure his son, Luis, stays out of trouble. He buys a truck in order to expand his landscaping business, and drives it without a license—but when the truck is stolen, he and Luis must set out on a dangerous journey to get it back. In a Better World tells the story of Anton, a doctor who splits his time between Denmark and a Sudanese refugee camp. His son, Elias, befriends a new boy at school, Christian, and both father and son have to make some tough choices; Elias with Christian, and Anton with whether or not to treat a sick warlord. Both are compelling, but we’ll go with In a Better World, which seems to tell a story that’s a bit more complex—we’re interested in the parallels between Elias’s and Anton’s separate lives. Advantage: In a Better World

DirectorA Better Life was directed by Chris Weitz, who also directed the terrific Nick Hornby adaptation About a Boy in 2002. That, understandably, is the credit they’re choosing to emphasize in the trailer—rather than Weitz’s other projects, like American Pie, which he directed with his older brother Paul, or The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Laugh all you want, but the man can handle a big movie. In a Better World is the work of Susanne Bier, whose only American credit so far is Things We Lost in the Fire—a middlebrow 2007 drama starring Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro that got polite reviews but has since become something of a punchline among film snobs. We’re more intrigued by the prospect of a serious, vampire-free Chris Weitz movie. Advantage: A Better Life

Father-Son Pathos“You are the most important thing in this world to me. That’s why I had you… for a reason to live,” Carlos tells Luis in A Better Life, while a single tear tracks its way down Luis’ cheek. It’s simple and very effective. But our heart breaks at the moment in In a Better World in which Elias video-chats his father, who responds by asking whether they’d agreed to talk today. “No, I just felt like talking to you,” Elias says, the smile leaving his face. You immediately feel for the kid, not even 40 seconds in. Advantage: In a Better World

TitleA Better Life, while pretty straightforward, is loaded with significance: the definition of the American dream, after all, is working hard to provide a better life for your children than the one you had. In a Better World is also evocative—it begs the question of whether it’s the father or son who’s supposedly the one in the better place—but it’s also something of a bait and switch. There’s a hopeful quality about the title In a Better World—much more hopeful than the literal English translation of its Danish title, Hævnen, which means “The Revenge.” We’re suddenly a lot more distrustful of whomever is marketing this movie for American audiences. Advantage: A Better Life

AccoladesEntertainment Weekly, in an early review, suggested that A Better Life might be the first awards movie of 2011, singling out Demián Bichir’s performance as especially strong. But there’s no beating In a Better World on this one—it already won an Oscar last month, for best foreign-language film. Advantage: In a Better World

The VerdictIt was the Oscar win that cinched it for In a Better World. Though we’re a little wary of the Sudan storyline—it seems like the use of the war-torn East African nation as a setting might serve a mostly metaphorical purpose, which is an awfully dangerous line to tread—we trust the Academy to pick good ones. Some of our favorite movies of the last 20 years (All About My Mother, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Lives of Others) set the precedent. Honestly, though, both of these movies look like they’re worth seeing. Winner: In a Better World