Tag Archives: american me

As both an American and a Los Angelino, I’m a little bit worried (American Me – 1992)

An interesting film for those from Los Angeles and who have a desire to see a visual dramatization of modern gang activities in the American prison system.  Altogether, I find it difficult to recommend this film to a general group, but those who satisfy the aforementioned qualities. 

My fellow Americans:

Now that I’ve hit the weekend (and I have the ability to procrastinate on a scale unparalleled by college students since the last draft), I’ve begun a Netflix binge (probably two or three movies).  And, because of my collegiate status (meaning that I don’t know how to receive mail), I’m usually the actual Netflix as opposed to Qwikster.  To further explain myself, I’m currently cycling through my Instant Play queue.  So I can’t exactly see any particular films that I want, more often genres of interest.  Which leads me to today’s movie, a member of the crime-drama genre, American Me.

This movie’s kind of up and down for me.  In any sense, it’s not a bad drama.  But what’s being portrayed, who’s being portrayed, heck, the overall plot prevents me from empathizing with the characters (neither the protagonist nor any other member of the cast).  Still, allow me to begin my review:

First of all, the movie is interesting for the sense of history involved.  It begins with the Zoot Suit Riots (which I like because I’m currently going through a Neo-Swing phase in my music) and the growth of Los Angeles from the 40s to the 80s.  Furthermore, the portrayals of East LA and Folsom are not unbelievable.  That said, these images make me glad that I don’t frequent East LA (actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been there) and have me worry for the state of our prisons.  But this was the 80s.  Things must have gotten better, right?

Moving away from my fear of people and urbanities, let’s look at our leading actor.  James Edward Olmos, as always, is excellent in this film.  While the idea of a gang member growing hardened by jail and then softening seems a bit odd, Olmos does well in the role, going so far as to gain the audience’s sympathy for a drug trafficker/murderer.  While this role was towards the earlier end of his career, it was also his directorial debut, and I believe he performed greatly in the dual role.

The remaining cast, while participatory, often seemed uninspired or their characters lacked anything near the depth of Montoya Santana (Olmos).  Ergo, I can’t say whether they were good or bad as the writing left them with little.

Quickly moving onto the writing, it was impressive for it’s ability to be gruesome without being gore.  Activities transpiring within the prison are graphic in nature and appearance, very gritty, and much further thought on said activities may leave some feeling nauseous.  From raping and murder to the acquisition of drugs and gang member initiation, there were quite a few disturbingly criminal acts.  But I suppose that’s reality and, in portraying it, this film does well as a drama.

Finally, in connecting with the audience, the emotion of the film is really pushed by familial sentimentality.  With the beginning narrative describing Olmos’s parents, the ending with Puppet killing Little Puppet (Puppet’s little brother), and the continuation of La Primera (Santana’s gang) with Olmos’s little brother, it’s the connections and acts perpetrated by or against them that evokes such harsh feelings within the audience. 

To wrap this up, the film is harsh.  It seems calm in the way that the characters speak and act throughout most of the film (interspersed with the occasional murder or riot), but those occasions have actions that are universally painfully and threatening.  So, while I won’t recommend this film for most and I cannot say that I particularly liked it, I can say that it was still a good movie.

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