Mr. Bardem, best known to American audiences for his chillingly persuasive embodiment of evil in "No Country for Old Men," combines muscular, charismatic physicality with an almost delicate sensitivity, and this blend of the rough and the tender gives Biutiful a measure of emotional credibility that it may not entirely deserve.
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Sometimes it seems as if Iñárritu is literally carving out his actor's heart, so tangible does Bardem make Uxbal's fears. Iñárritu has so much that he wants to say - too much, in fact, and the film's central weakness - that he has created an emotional tsunami for both the actors and the audience.
We've come to expect diminishing returns from the once-promising Mexican director who then gave the world "Babel," but the combination of wallowing humanistic-cinema overkill and outright ridiculousness he lays out here represents a new low. Biutiful is not a tragedy. It's a straight-up travesty.
Here, it's all Bardem, and this great actor's careworn face and sensitive presence counts for a lot. He ultimately can't save the soul of Biutiful, but he makes the journey easier.
However much Uxbal tries to help Barcelona's dispossessed, Biutiful doesn't really have anything to say about the modern world's economic migrants. Indeed, it could even be said that the movie exploits them.
The hardest movies to review are the ones you respect and admire but don't love and also - and this is the crucial part - aren't angered by. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Biutiful is just that sort of film.
Though its structure may be whittled down in comparison with the earlier works, Biutiful is even more morbidly obese than "Babel" in terms of soggy ideas, elephantine with miserabilist humanism and redemption jibber-jabber.
Biutiful, which gets it name from a child's misspelling of the word, is in itself a beautiful, mesmerizing film and Iñárritu's masterpiece.
Shot hand-held with a poet's eye by Rodrigo Prieto, the film is relentless but as riveting as the world a remarkable actor lets us see through Uxbal's eyes. Bravo, Bardem.
In spite of fine work from Bardem and Álvarez, Biutiful is an irritating, oppressive 150-minute dirge, not the step forward Iñárritu's dissolved partnership with Arriaga seemed to promise.