Biutiful - Blu-ray Review

'once you settle in to the idea that we are watching Uxbal’s attempts at redemption, Biutiful becomes infinitely more engaging'

Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a man with problems. He’s seriously ill. He’s a single father to two kids. He works as a ‘fixer’ for some shady Chinese crooks. He sees dead people, only, he’s not Hayley Joel Osment and he doesn’t have Bruce Willis to help him make it all go away.

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful is a grim and grimy portrayal of life in Barcelona. Shot through the eyes of Uxbal, Iñárritu tells a sordid tale of the city’s underbelly as his main character searches for redemption. Part below street level crime story, part family drama, Iñárritu feels like he has more of a grip on his narrative here than he ever did in Babel. Where that film had different characters to explore different themes this just has Uxbal and the relative simplicity this allows Iñárritu obviously benefits the director.

That said, he’s still open to criticisms of pacing and depth. At one-hundred and forty-eight minutes Biutiful is a slog. More than that, it’s a slog which feels as though its balance is off. A great deal of time is spent looking at the mother (Maricel Álvarez) of Uxbal’s children when the conclusion to her story is nigh on inevitable. Comparatively little time though is spent exploring Uxbal’s supernatural talents, a surprise inclusion here but one which Iñárritu seems disinterested in pursuing. To the director, their mere mention is enough – they invoke the idea of life and death and of an afterlife and for his themes that fulfils a purpose. For an audience’s satisfaction, it does not.

Once you settle in to the idea that we are watching Uxbal’s attempts at redemption, Biutiful becomes infinitely more engaging. A late development with some illegal Chinese workers is devastating whilst Uxbal’s relationship with Ige (Diaryatou Daff) calls to mind the awkward but honest interactions of 2007’s The Visitor. It takes a long time for the director to tell us who Uxbal is but once he’s got over that hurdle Biutiful becomes an engaging watch, albeit one which circles several telegraphed tragedies, each one of which is nonetheless shocking in its reveal.

Biutiful is released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK on Monday 16th May.

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