Chris Weitz – director of big-budget adaptations The Golden Compass and Twilight’s New Moon – drops the fantasy element for new film A Better Life.

Set in eastern Los Angeles, the film charts one man’s pursuit of a better life for himself and his teenage son. A humble gardener, Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) has done his best to make a life for his family in America, struggling through his wife’s betrayal and the gang culture threatening to engulf his son, Luis (Jose Julian).

When his boss informs Carlos of his plans to leave the business, Carlos turns to his wealthier sister (Delores Heredia) for the means of buying the company vehicle for himself. However, when Carlos’ trusting nature is betrayed by a new employee, Carlos and Luis must set aside their differences in order to track down their ill-fated truck all the while remaining vigilent to the threat posed by the country’s deportation office.

Weitz brings his honed Hollywood sheen to a side of the City of Angels rarely glimpsed in multiplexes, working with cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe to create a studied portrayal of life in east L.A. Having spent months researching the city’s immigration culture and even going as far as to cast ex-gang members in relevant roles, Weitz paints a picture of resilience and integrity in the face of deprivation and isolation that is often incredibly moving.

Bichir is endlessly sympathetic in what amounts to quite a demanding role, earnest to a fault and painfully naive yet never at the price of audience empathy. His Carlos is a hard-working and dutiful citizen whose only insight into the so-called American Dream is from his perch atop one of his client’s trees. Jose Julian’s Luis is the stark opposite of his father – cynical, ungrateful and at times violent – and suffers accordingly with an unsympathetic, but no less powerful performance. Together they make for an engaging double-team, the less-is-more screenplay uniting father and son to humbling and tear-jerking effect – actions well and truly speaking louder than words.

A winning alchemy of poignant performances, impeccable set design and immersive realism, A Better Life is a welcomingly grueling experience that’s about as far from Northern Lights and the town of Forks as it’s possible to get. Utterly captivating and heart-warmingly tender, it is a film that deserves the widest audience it can get.