I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, and I’m especially a fan of Javier Bardem’s fantastic performance in it – as it seems are most people. However, re-watching Biutiful has reminded me that he has at least one performance out there that can top his work with the Coens, because here in Iñárritu’s film, he is just incredible.
Bardem plays Uxbal, a man living on the wrong side of the law in Barcelona, who’s beset on all sides as he struggles to gather enough money to provide for his family. This is a film which offers few happy moments to our protagonist and delivers a ton of hardship upon him, something which appears to have repelled quite a number of critics, but which I do not have a problem with. Each moment of hope or love is made powerful by their scarcity, and also by the numerous layers and conflicts which Bardem is able to emote. Bardem aside however, the rest of the cast all do a great job in their respective roles; particularly Hanaa Bouchaib who does very well playing Uxbal’s daughter, and strongly delivers during their emotional moments together.
I was shocked to discover that Biutiful only comes in at 64% on Rotten Tomatoes, I happen to think that this is one of the best films of the last decade – it’s haunting, emotional, and, for me at least, lingered in my head long after the credits rolled. Reading other reviews, I’ve found that it’s often described as being overly long and drags with its two and a half hours running time, again can’t really say that I agree here. It’s worth every minute of that time, as the film investigates father/child relationships, criminality, immigration, and death, from several different ethnic groups’ perspective. Perhaps it could be slimmed down to focus purely on Bardem’s individual struggle, but he’s in practically every frame anyway, and to lose the stories of the other people that he interacts with would just severely weaken the film. It would become far less powerful without having them to contrast and compare to Uxbal’s journey.
So, it’s probably obvious that I highly recommend Biutiful, despite a lot of the negative reviews out there. It’s an affecting film that’s simultaneously beautiful, whilst also shining a light on the darker underworld of Barcelona. Nothing comes easy in this film; it’s morally ambiguous, and doesn’t always make for easy viewing, but it’s also powerful, well made, and boasts a fantastic lead performance from one of the most exciting actors working at the moment – Javier Bardem.
Let me know what you thought of the film; did you agree with me or the critics? Tap out a comment below!