One of David Letterman's catch phrases probably says it best: "I wouldn't give this guy's troubles to a monkey on a rock!"
Biutiful (pronounced "beautiful") stars the great Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), who is nominated in the Best Actor category in this year's Academy Awards. The production is also a nominee for Best Foreign Film. There's a lot of talent involved in the story of Uxbal (Bardem), a loving father and deeply flawed man facing the prospect of his own death from cancer. There's a lot of misery too.
Uxbal is in the illegal alien employment trade, supplying workers willing/desperate enough to work for pennies in Barcelona's black-market. He tries to tend to the needs of the people being exploited, dealing with corrupt employers and authority figures and even buying space heaters for the Spartan sleeping quarters of a group of Chinese sweatshop workers.
At home, Uxbal dotes on his two children. His ex-wife (Maricel Alvarez) is a bipolar drug addict who turns up often enough to keep the family off-balance. What else do you need to know about Uxbal – oh, he sees dead people and shares information from the departed with loved ones left behind. Soon, his beloved children will be left behind, and Uxbal must get his affairs in order.
Biutiful is writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu'sfirst film since ending the collaboration with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga that produced Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel.
What's different this time? The film is linear – no hopping around in time, thank you very much. The screenplay more or less sticks to one storyline, although there are the aforementioned tangents. The movie's big minus is that it is so loaded with awful situations that it crosses into overkill. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate a well-done bummer as much as the next guy – I have several CDs by renown miserablists Arab Strap – but eventually you reach a point when you just stop caring about the latest nightmare thrust in your face.
The movie's big plus is Bardem, who is so easy to relate to that he carried me through the excess of the screenplay. He makes Uxbal universal. We all do wrong. We all love. We're all terminal. On a human-to-human level, the movie grabbed me. I appreciated the camera work as well, and the credibility of the rest of the cast.
Beyond that, I suppose I missed the big picture. I didn't get much out of the whole talking-to-the-dead business. I didn't understand why Iñárritu seemed so determined to pile ugliness on top of ugliness, only to turn towards a redemptive wrap up that seemed too easy – not for Uxbal, for the script. While I felt the pain of my fellow human, and the pain of others that suffered around him, I'm not sure I needed to share the experience for 148 minutes. I'm glad I saw Biutiful because of Bardem. Hopefully, Iñárritu will stretch his imagination in a different direction next time.