Full disclosure:I love movies with disjointed narratives. Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director who's previous efforts: 21 grams, and Babel, also had that same fractured style, works that way. This is a little more straightforward a story than those, but it still has some elements where flash forwards are shown. This is a gritty, heartbreaking film that tells the story of a Uxbal (Javier Bardem) a man in Barcelona who is struggling to be a good father to his two kids: Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib) and Mateo (Guillermo Estrella) and help out his mentally unstable wife: Marambra (Maricel Álvarez) who he is seperated from. She is sleeping with his jerk of a brother:Tito (Eduard Fernández ) and trying his best, to make a living working as a middle man for Chinese sweatshop owners, who make knockoff products, that are then peddled on the streets by illegal immigrants who live in squalor. He has to bribe the police to keep them at bay, and he is obviously not too pleased with himself at his lot in life. He does it because it pays some bills, and feeds his children. the way, Uxbal can see the recently departed, and help these restless souls move on when they get stuck, between here and wherever they go next. He also makes some money doing this; getting paid by grieving family members who ache to know their loved ones final thoughts.

Uxbal is also dying of cancer and only has a few moths to live. Sound intense?
It is.

I would recommend this film just for Bardem’s presence alone. It is a magnificent performance by a great actor who’s every facial expression of pain, joy, horror, and anger is a wonder to watch. Yes...he is that good. He is a man who is haunted by the past, aching about his father he didn't know, and by the growing fear that he might not be able to take care of his children financially before he dies. It is a raw and real  performance by an actor that will have you riveted in watching him. His scenes with his kids are just wonderful in conveying the true love of a parent, along with the frustration. The two child actors are real and sincere in their roles.

The poverty of the streets of Barcelona are on full display here ,and  Iñárritu does not shy away from the pain and suffering of the people at the bottom; struggling not to live, but to simply survive. We see parents with children, sleeping by the dozens in the cold basement of the warehouse they work in, the small dirty apartments filled with immigrants. It’s funny, but you can kind of see that Iñárritu  implies the beauty in the struggles of these people, along with the nobility of sacrifice to provide. That actually, might be what I saw. Uxbel is living on borrowed time, and this is the story about one very damaged but good man, trying to make amends and do the right thing before he goes. It is his penance.There is a pivotal scene, after a horrible accident, where Uxbal visits a good friend who shares the gift of seeing the dead as him. He tells her that he is not ready to go; that he cannot leave his children. She tells him that indeed, he is going to die and that he should get his affairs in order. It is a heartbreaking moment that every parent has gone through in their mind. A sequence where Uxbal, in a moment of great despair, falls down and goes on a bender with his slimy brother to the Barcelona sex clubs nightlife, is a bit out of place, but it does I guess show the depths to which Uxbal’s life has fallen; drowning his sorrow in a version of some kind of sexual Dante’s Inferno.

I have read some reviews that say that Inarritu bites off more than he can chew in his films...that he reaches for too much. So what? It is so refreshing to see a filmmaker with the vision, compassion and balls to take a story and in some way try to find a new narrative to make a little bit of sense in this thing we call our life with all it's warts. Life is dirty and ugly,and there is loss and heartbreak everywhere.

But somewhere in this chaos, it can be biutiful too. I found this film to be just stunning.

watch the trailer: