"21 Grams" and "Babel" director Alejandro González Iñárritu follows up his success by returning with another breathtaking and incredibly moving film. "Biutiful," which stars Oscar winning actor Javier Bardem tells the story of a broken man searching for redemption in his final days in the hopes of leaving something worthwhile behind for his children. Bardem, once again gives a tremendous tour-de-force performance as a terminally ill criminal figure longing for answers to life's questions in his final days. Bardem has the ability to find a quality in this character that allows the audience to sympathize with him no matted how unlikable he is on the surface. Dealing with themes of family, mortality and right vs. wrong, González Iñárritu and Bardem have painted a beautiful picture of the human spirit.
The material that González Iñárritu decides to tackle with this film is just as haunting and difficult as his previous work, but the director finds away to successfully illustrate the humanity of these tragic situations with style and heart. González Iñárritu's movies have always been gorgeously shot, but the cinematography by Rodrgio Prieto is especially impressive and makes the scenery practically jump off the screen. While the subject matter is very difficult to watch at times, it's handled in a heartbreaking yet classy way. González Iñárritu, who also co-wrote the script, sets a very dark tone for the film that resonates towards the end of the movie and the main characters journey. The pace is slow at times but then explodes with passion in certain moments. The music by Gustavo Santaolalla is also worth mentioning, as it is an important component of the film.
The movie begins by introducing us to Uxball (Bardem), a man who has made his career as a shady underworld figure in an impoverished area but who is also a devoted father. Early on in the film we find that Uxball is dying and does not have long to live. This begins his search for redemption, the meaning of life and a proper environment for his children to grow up in after he is gone. With an ex-wife who is an alcoholic and a marginal parental figure at best, Uxball has good reason to be concerned. As he continues to search for a spiritual answer to his problems in his current life, the demons from his past begin to haunt him. When a tragic event occurs on his watch, Uxball blames no one but himself and takes the news hard. This propels him to drastic measures with his ex-wife, to ensure that his children will survive after his passing. With death near, Uxball now must come to terms with the life he's led and whatever is next for him, while at the same time letting go of that which is most important, his children.
Without giving too much away there is one scene in particular towards the end of the film, which is truly amazing. One of Uxball's jobs is overseeing a condemned building where many poor families live in squallier. While Uxball is in charge of this facility, he has left it under the watch of some of his employees who have failed to keep a proper eye on the buildings temperature and through the cold night, everyone living in the basement has frozen to death. There were maybe fifty people in all, including children and the elderly. Poor people with nowhere else to go and in Uxball's mind he has just sealed their ultimate fates. While the subject matter of this scene alone is incredibly moving and devastating, it is Bardem's remarkable performance that really drives it home for the audience. To see these frozen, still people and how the actor cradles one of them in his arms in disbelief is an impressive piece of acting. Bardem's emotion and unbelievable commitment to the material is a testament to his gift as a performer.
Spanish actor, Javier Bardem has been giving groundbreaking performances since he hit the American scene in 2000 with his Oscar nominated performance in "Before Night Falls." Of course, Bardem eventually followed that up with roles in films like "Collateral," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," "Eat Pray Love" and his Oscar winning performance in the Coen Brothers' "No Country For Old Men." But it's with his role here in "Biutiful," that I believe Bardem has truly cemented himself as one of the greatest working actors in the world today. Actor Sean Penn called Bardem's performance in this movie, "The best since Brando in "The Last Tango In Paris." That's quite an honor, especially coming from such a gifted actor as Penn, and I would have to say it is a well-deserved compliment. While the film is at times difficult to watch because of the sensitive material, Bardem's performance, along with González Iñárritu's keen direction, elevates the film and makes it a very powerful piece of drama. Bardem definitely deserves Oscar consideration for this role. In the end, "Biutiful" lives up to its name by showing us many things in this life that are not beautiful and by reflecting a mirror on those issues, show's us where the beauty in life is truly hidden, within ourselves.