Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu should probably be up there with people you cite as the best directors working today. His films had a intelligence and a rawness that few films have matched, and even if he inspired a thousand terrible indie films about people in cities being unexpectedly poignant ways set to soft montages to the music of John Mayer, his films have a vitality that few have matched, before a since. Particularly Amores Perros, a film I'd still consider his best purely for the lack of Sean Penn in it. Biutiful is simultaneously a step back to basics and a radical departure. The Hollywood grandiosity that skirted the edges of his American ventures is gone, as is his trademark multi-protagonist structure, but the grittiness is back in full force, and perhaps for the first time a more personal, sincerely emotional side.
Biutiful is an intimate film by a director known entirely for his sense of scope. There are problems here as a consequence of that, the occasional flirtation with expressionism feels out of place, a subplot dealing with some Chinese immigrant workers hits and misses, and one could argue the melodrama is laid on a little thick, from the poverty to the single dad stuff, to the cancer etc. Inarritu lays it on thick. But there's a sincerity here, a truthfulness that allows the film to work in spite of all this. Well that and the phenomenal central performance by Javier Bardem. This shouldn't be all that surprising, and nobody is going to take much exception to the notion of Bardem's awesomeness, but there's something about Spanish language Bardem that doesn't quite translate to his English speaking roles, perhaps because the English language appears obviously difficult to him and outside of Anton Chigurh, where the unease became an incredible asset, he's very much the Gerard Depardieu of our generation. But if you see Before Night Falls or The Sea Inside or now Biutiful. The sheer force of his presence is very much like no other. He communicates a great raw power, as well as a great intelligence and his performance here reminded me very much of early Robert De Niro, only perhaps with less self-consciousness. Either way his performance here is very much an ascendant one, that overwhelms any weaknesses the film possesses, and suffice to say that blind-siding Oscar nomination was fully warranted.
Ultimately, Biutiful is a bold, moving and sincere film. Its also erratic, over-long and melodramatic. I suppose it's up to you whether what's right makes what;s wrong not matter or the other way around. But for me it is truly refreshing to see a film this genuine. It's an increasingly rare thing.