Biutiful Review

(3.5 STARS)

Calling Biutiful challenging is a major understatement. It’s easily one of the most difficult pictures of 2010. It’s just a brutal look at a man trying to survive—and barely succeeding. Javier Bardem completely disappears into the role of Uxbal—our modern-day Job. He’s as good as he’s ever been, as is director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. It’s a long, dark, and depressing film, but if you can accept and appreciate that, there’s a whole lot to admire here.

Uxbal is our main character, and he’s going through a number of terrible ordeals. He has been diagnosed with very serious cancer and only has a short while left to put his affairs in order. His wife, Marambra (Maricel Alvarez), is bipolar and cheating on Uxbal with his brother (Eduard Fernandez). His “work”—getting jobs for illegal Chinese and African immigrants—is going very poorly. And his kids are growing up in a poor and potentially dangerous home. With his diagnosis as grim as it is, Uxbal is determined to try to make some things right. But with every step forward he takes, fate sends him back two steps.

I haven’t been a huge fan of Inarritu’s previous work; His jumbled timelines typically leave me emotionally cold. Thankfully, this film is a bit of a stylistic departure. For the most part, the narrative is sparse and straightforward, with a lot more focus on character than his previous features. It’s Uxbal’s story, not Inarritu’s, and that really helped me feel a connection with the material.

But from beginning to end, it’s Javier Bardem’s Oscar-nominated performance that captivates more than anything else. He disappears into roles greater than perhaps any other actor working today, and his work here is no different. Uxbal is a tortured individual who has a hard time coming to grips with the hand he’s been dealt. Yet, he pushes through and tries to do what’s right with grit and determination. He’s one of 2010’s most vivid characters, and Bardem’s nomination is 100% deserved.

Some have written off the film as too grim or a bit contrived. I was stunned by the power of some of Biutiful’s twists and turns. It really hit home in a way I didn’t expect, and strangely enough, I thought its length worked in its favor. Bardem has no chance of taking home the Oscar, and I think it’s chances in Best Foreign Language Film are small, but at the end of the day, Biutiful is one of the year’s best and most powerful films.

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