February 10, 2011
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Javier Bardem is an amazing actor with a lot of range. He is able to go from creepy and intimidating (“No Country for Old Men”) to nice and charming (“Eat Pray Love”). In Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutuful,” Bardem gives a sincere and down to earth performance as a man who goes on a path of self-discovery and redemption.

He’s a devoted father of two young kids. In one scene when the three of them eat dinner together and his son Matteo (Guillermo Estrells) stuffs a bunch of food in his mouth, Uxbal tells him to not eat like a pig, and when the boy continues to act out Uxbal tells him to go to his room. We find out that he never even met his father so he feels inclined to be the best father he can be to his own kids.

At the same time he lives a dangerous life as a shady businessman who helps illegal immigrants find jobs and collects money from illegally sold items. It’s all about the money to him so he can support his kids. The many scenes of him bonding with his sons are the best in the entire film.

However, Bardem’s wonderful performance (which is nominated for an Oscar) is diminished by a cluttered, sometimes depressing drama that goes on way too long. There just isn’t enough in the script (written by Inarritu and Armando Bo) to keep the film going. The movie begins strong but about halfway through it runs out of gas and stalls. The ending is touching but it’s a long journey.

The plot twists aren’t really anything we haven’t seen before. Uxbal is separated from his wife and wants to reconcile but of course there are complications; then we find out he has cancer and has only a few months to live. Now, predictably, he must try to undo all his wrongs and secure a future for his kids.

There’s a heavy theme of death in the picture. Besides the cancer, Uxbal finds his dad’s corpse and wants to cremate it. He also works as a questionable psychic on the side. These themes are never fully explored; they’re just left out there.

In fact there were numerous random things that were thrown in but never expanded. Like the two Chinese businessmen that Uxbal works with who are having a gay relationship, or the sexual relationship between Uxbal’s wife and his friend. The film was all over the place and at times confusing.

Nevertheless, Inarritu’s directing is spectacular. Most of the time he keeps the camera up close to Uxbal, similar to what Darren Aronofsky did in “The Wrester,” and the movie has a natural, gritty feel to it. In one scene Uxbal and his business partners discover that their illegal immigrant workers have all died in a basement. As he frantically tries to find survivors we can feel the emotion and intensity.

Even with all of “Biutiful’s” weaknesses, Bardem’s performance keeps the film somewhat watchable. And if Bardem can do that, then he deserves his Oscar nomination.

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