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Dark, brutal, and powerful
contronatura21 February 2000
A film that explores the criminal lifestyle in a remarkably brutal and cynical fashion, American Me is the stunningly assured directing debut of Edward James Olmos. Olmos also stars, and gives a terrific performance. Even better is William Forsythe as his lifelong friend and right hand man. This film features some of the most unflinching moments of violence I've seen in a mainstream American film. The violence isn't necessarily graphic, but you generally get the idea. One scene involving a brutal gang rape has deservedly achieved notoriety, and yet it doesn't seem gratuitous. It works within the confines of the story. Olmos should be applauded for this achievement, and it's a shame that this film is overshadowed by other gangster films. It belongs right up there with them.
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Intense Disturbing and Underrated Film
tmcclus24 November 2005
"American Me" is arguably the most significant film not discussed in the same breath with crime epics such as "The Godfather." It was clearly made, both consciously and perhaps subconsciously to be the Mexican Godfather film and that is hardly a bad thing. Its honesty regarding the emotional costs of violence and murder are on par with that film. I don't know what to say to anyone who critiques Edward James Olmos. First, this actor's capacity to convey a complicated range of emotions without words is absolutely staggering and has been seen to great effect in many great films including "Blade Runner." Additionally, he is inarguably the premiere Latino / Chicano filmmaker and actor of all time. If you look at the films he has been involved with, think about how they have dominated the way Hispanic people, Mexicans in particular, have been seen by others who would, largely, not even know of the experiences of their neighbors. "American Me" is so unflinching that, after seeing it, I had to see it again to believe it was actually made by or released by a major studio. Once upon a time studio films featured honest portraits of life but rarely any more. "American Me" tho hardly the knee-slapping comedy some reviewer wanted or expected, conveys an honest sense of the life lived by many without the hope of education or prosperity but with the same need for respect and something bigger than themselves to believe in that you or anyone else has and lives their life by. If you want to see a life perhaps very different than yours depicted with uncommon honesty, watch this film.
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Excellent directorial debut from Edward James Olmos.
Captain_Couth22 June 2004
American Me (1992) was the directing debut of long time character actor Edward James Olmos. This film is a historical fiction depiction of the rise of La Emme, The Mexican Mafia. The movie follows the lives of three street gang members who by a sad twist of fate end up in Juvenille Hall. From there they graduate to the big time. Folsom Prison. Inside the walls of Folsom, the three form the most powerful gang inside the California Penal System.

Olmos turns the story into a Shakespherian tragedy. A story about a dangerous cycle that repeats over and over within certain communities and how the lack of education can be dangerous. Like they say, an idle mind is the devil's playground. Many of these characters had too much "idle time" before they hit rock bottom. Olmos' direction, editing and use of lighting is that of a long time film-maker. The cinematography complements his directorial style. He makes these figures into noble persons who live and die by a code forged from blood, shanks and sweat. Great stuff from Mr. Olmos, a true masterpiece from a first time director.

Sadly, Mr. Olmos has took a lot of flack for this film and has made some powerful people very angry. If I were him I would have taken a safer route and gave the prison gangs some fake names and cut all ties to any "Technical Support" but that's not his style. He should be commended for his efforts because others wouldn't have the courage or conviction to do this. Mr. Olmos doesn't glamorize the lifestyle either. Although they're men of honor amongst themselves I wouldn't want to be in their shoes. But what people have to do to stay alive in prison should not be looked down upon and on the other hand, when one's on the outside they should leave what they learned within the prison walls. Because it's a whole different ball game out here.

Highly recommended.
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Stoic and Intense
bkoganbing20 April 2009
Edward James Olmos both directs and stars in American Me with a mostly Latino cast which depicts a Chicano life influenced both by circumstances and bad choices. The story with a prologue depicting his parents during the Zoot suit riots during World War II right up to almost the present time. Olmos plays a gang leader and we see his rise and fall in the criminal profession which starts with an arrest as a juvenile.

It's a stoic and intense portrayal that Olmos gives to his own direction. Olmos did his own research for the part, but more than that he lived it being born and growing up in the Mexican American area of East Los Angeles.

In the story Olmos and his two running buddies, William Forsythe and Pepe Serna while in prison found a Mexican American gang, La Primavera and in prison they pretty much are the Latino inmate population. As they gradually finish their sentences and are released the gang takes it shape and control of various rackets in the Barrio. Of course they also have to deal with other gangs, black gangs, Aryan Brotherhood, and some rival Chicano crews. That last sets in motion the downfall of Olmos.

The story is narrated in flashback by Olmos writing a letter to his younger brother while he's back in prison. It's a mournful plea for the kid not to make the same choices he did. American Me is a very good film, the personal project of a very talented man.
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Watch this movie!!
VCRanger23 April 1999
American Me tells the story about the creation of one of the biggest hispanic gangs in California, the Mexican Mafia. It tells the story from the viewpoint of Santana, the co-creator of the gang, from his parents violent youth all the way to the time he spends in prison. An enthralling look at gang violence and how it effects our youth as it becomes a truly vicious cycle. Outstanding performances by James-Olmos and Forsythe really lend credit to the movie. There are some moments of extreme violence, so it may not be suitable for all people. A rating of 9 out of 10 was given.
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the greatest description of gang and prison life
Kwyzybo-212 February 2004
this had the right amount of story, realism, and a great ending. people say it's too violent, but it's a prison movie it has to be violent, because prison is not sweet. Edward James Olmos is not only brave for doing this movie with actual prisoners and gang members, but he was great at depicting what happens to people when they get involved in a gang and do not do what the gang leader says, because when they tell you to kill someone, that person is going to get killed. either he goes down by your hands, or you end up getting killed with him. one of my favorite movies, i give it a 10/10
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American Me. Thumbs up!
bambinogizmo25 March 2005
I seen this film when it first came out, back in 92 on VHS. The film stuck in my mind since-there have not been many films like it to date.

Edward James Olmos is magnificent as actor and director. You may not have seen him in many films but he does have a quality about him that casts him perfectly in the principal role of gang leader / drug cartel.

If you like prison films this is one of the best. It hasn't got too many clichés and avoids being overtly pretentious.

William Forsythe is great as Edward James Olmos's buddy and as he-Forsythe-usually does when acting (doesn't try to overact or steal any scenes) he just does the business and blends in as his character engrossing you into the film giving it a more realistic depiction of the setting.

Many prison films usually fit the same formula, showing you the in's and out's, morals and stereotypes usually associated with prison films. American ME just gets right into it and takes you along without preaching those usual morals and overdone cliché characters. This film is on a par with BLOOD IN BLOOD OUT. Check it out!
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Underrated Gem in the Gangster Genre
RobSac26 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
This movie needs a month long run on HBO or Showtime, to remind people of how good it is, and hopefully create a buzz that would lead to a bluray release. Anyone with a remote appreciation of a terrific screenplay, solid acting, and neo-realistic direction would have to love this movie.

Edward James Olmos directs, and stars as main character Santana Montoya. Santana's parents are victims of a brutal and disturbing attack during Los Angeles's "Zoot Suit Riots" in the 1940s which sets the tone for Santana's power driven and violent life.

A childhood of gang activity in East Los Angeles eventually lands Santana in Folsom State Prison, where in the 1960s he starts La Eme, otherwise known as the Mexican Mafia. The gang controls all illicit commerce inside of the prison walls, from drugs to prostitution.

While paroled in the early 1970s, Santana meets Julie (Evalina Fernandez). Julie, who's aware of Santana's high profile in the criminal world, and is resentful of it for the most part, falls for him when she learns that while in prison he'd studied and read books about the Chicano political movement. Santana's childhood friend and fellow gangster, JD (William Forsythe), also a member of La Eme despite being white, is skeptical of Santana's relationship with Julie, and believes Julie's pacifist politics are rubbing off on Santana, which would make La Eme look weak in the gang world.

When Julie's cousin, "Little Puppet" (Daniel Villareal) commits a major infraction within La Eme's rules, Santana is given an ultimatum by JD to either endorse a gang hit on Little Puppet, or risk that his leadership of the gang would come into question, likely resulting in his own death. A series of incidents, including a drug overdose and a bizarre end to a date between Santana and Julia, put the two at odds, which leaves Santana at a crossroads of maintaining his gang status (and his life), or trying to salvage what little remains of his relationship with the only woman he'd ever loved. What results is both riveting and sad, and, as intended by Edward James Olmos, leaves a message about Chicano gang life in Los Angeles.

Enough controversy surrounded the movie to make another movie about in and of itself. In fact, the DVD has a documentary included in the special features called "Lives in Hazard", which goes into further detail, while also giving terrific insight to the streets of East Los Angeles in the early 1990s, including interviews with real gang members who were used as consultants and actors.

This one has fallen through the cracks, and it shouldn't have. It has a story, dialogue, and even great cinematography (which effectively captures downtown and East Los Angeles during three different eras in history) that help the film hold up twenty plus years after its release.
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A Very Historically Accurate Story Of La Eme Formation
eric26200318 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Over the past few years, anything that featured Edward James Olmos left be with a bit of mixed feelings about the individual. There's no doubt that he's a very talented performer, but it's his film choices that gets my goat. But when seeing the movie "American Me" knowing that he not only starred, but directed the movie, I actually was starting to take him in considerably. Knowing that such a talented performer being held back by poor decisions, we surely won't find him being wasted by his own movie.

Based on the life of Mexican mob kingpin Rodolfo Cadena (founder of La Eme), it shouldn't come as a surprise that there will some dramatization being that it's a biopic and not a documentary. This movie follows his hard-fought life, this movie is as simple as it gets, the story of how La Eme started. Montoya Santana (who was in his younger days played Panchito Gomez, later played by Olmos), is a Chicano youth growing up in Los Angeles' Barrio section forms a posse with Mundo (Richard Coca later Pepe Serna) and JD Morgan (Steve Wilcox/ William Forsythe) and dubbed the group under the moniker La Primera. One day, they took a detour through a rival gang's hangout spot, they break into a diner. The owner, who live nearby to them, catches them and sends them to juvenile hall and JD gets a prosthetic leg. This further explains why Roldolfo befriends a Caucasian guy who speaks with a Latino accent and is part of their circle. These events lead up to the gang going to jail and the formation of La Eme comes into fruition.

The film stands out as a personal pet project for Olmos as he informs his audience about the dangers of joining a gang. He speaks truly of this cause from experience being born in the Barrios himself. And even casted real prisoners from Folsom Prison as extras to prove his points.

His choices of what he brings into his movie is quite interesting and very fascinating. Such examples including the opening settings of his interpretation of the 1940's Zoot Suit Riots and it features a city war between vicious seamen in the California area as they attack Latinos predominately clad in Zoot Suits who represented Latino pride which lead to friction between Mexican-Americans and Caucasian-Americans which was what spawned gangster life among Latinos in the California area.

The soundtrack was quite impressive too featuring an eclectic array of classic songs from the 1950, 1960's and the 1970's including Ike and Tina Turner's version of Sly and the Family Stone's "I Want to Take you Higher" and Latino group Los Lobos doing Junior Walker's "Shotgun" amongst others. The film is generally one big flashback focusing on Santana's story from his childhood to his prison sentence and his narration is crisp and very well detailed.

"American Me" will not bite you to get attention, nor will it annoy you in any way. But what it does is it'll tell a wonderful story. And even you root for Santana all the way, he's in no way by any means an inspiring hero we can idolize with. Even when he tries to become a better more likable individual, we can't ignore the fact that he is a thug and a brute who gets what he deserves. The movie can be pretty ugly at times. Not Scorsese ugly, but violent enough to keep our attention going. It's a bit gooey with the rape scenes, but it still contributes in keeping with the flow of the story. Overall it's an authentic and captivating film that has a steady flow about a subject never really mentioned in movies.
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Packs an Emotional Wallop
bubbazanetti26 April 2005
This almost qualifies as the "Goodfellas" of Mexican Mafia movies, although it lacks the humor and character development that make the violence wrought by Scorsese's goons somewhat palatable.

Not for the weak of heart, this is one of the more daring works of early 90's American cinema. Violent, ugly and (allegedly) based on true events, the film yanks you into a world that lifelong residents of Los Angeles (like me) have never seen. The film starts with the L.A. zoot suit riots of the 1940's as a backdrop (Olmos portrayed "El Pachuco" in the stage and screen versions of "Zoot Suit"), and chronicles the rise and fall of Santana (Olmos) who, along with his boyhood "crime partners" (the always good William Forsythe and Pepe Serna), becomes the overlord of the Mexican prison mafia.

From the get go, the viewer is yanked down to the violent streets of East Los Angeles, then it's on to Folsom State Prison for some of the most brutal prison sequences this side of "Runaway Train."

This film has its critics - some lambaste the acting as second rate, and some view the dialog as corny (the poetic voice over by Olmos worked for me). Personally, I noticed none of this. I regard this as a very important film that deserves to be seen, now more than ever.

Not quite Scorsese, but light years better (and more socially relevant) than the "Penitentiary" movies. Those who can stomach the brutality will be richly rewarded with a film experience not easily forgotten.
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bryanfeelgood15 April 2010
Edward James Olmos gives a great performance as Santana, and even a better job as a director. The story flow smoothly and keeps you glued to the action and drama. A real life account of gangs and violence in the Latino communities and life in prison. Nothing was left out and every scene makes you feel the reality of the character's hardships and struggles. Well done 4 out of 5 stars, a must see. The movie starts off with Santana as a young child and evolves with him in prison running the main yard in Prison. Every move and decision made in Prison must be approved by Santana. Once he gets out he struggles with the reality of what his life has become and the effect it has on children in his own community and family. JD battles with Santana about "showing weakness" throughout the movie. His ultimate move costs him at the end but brings life to his soul with his attempt to change and make amends.
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Powerful Prison Scenes
lowdown196320004 February 2004
American Me was the first film to paint an accurate picture of what it can like in America's prison system. Most films in this genre have a Hollywoodized portrayal of live behind bars. Olmos's tale of latino gang life in and outside of prison is right on the mark. This is a good film to show to all those would be gangbangers out there that think prison is cool.
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dark and brutal story of one mans rise and fall within the Mexican mafia
caposilvio18 May 2004
This truly has to be one of the most overlooked masterpieces of our time. The direction and story telling are second to none. The actual story itself is enough to blow your mind. It all starts with three friends forming their own clique "La Primera" in the 60's in L.A.

When one of their friends is killed in a break-in gone wrong, the two surviving friends are sent to do time for their part in the act. Santana (Edward James Olmos)is sent to juve hall whilst his fellow survivior J.D (William Forsythe) has to settle for hospital food until he recovers from a shotgun wound. On his first night in juve hall the young santana is set upon by an older offender, raped & threatened, the young Santana brutally kills his attacker. In the morning he is

seen with a different light and all the other inmates are fearful, if not respectful. Santana & J.D then reunited and so begins their story

of how they came to rule one of the most notorious prisons and its inhabitants for decades.

Edward James Olmos' performance is breath-taking but William Forsythe d steals part his shine with an immense performance as J.D. J.D is a caucasian but strongly spoken hispanic. This is alittle awkward to take in with the young J.D but when they (Santana & J.D) are are reunited , you truly fell as if your seeing an old friend.

This is a truly compelling story and the characters within are detailed and overt with how they act/speak. Although this can be a brutal portrayal of what was real events, this is none the less, a story not to be missed .
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Great movie
lelici24 May 2000
What a great movie. When it started I had serious doubts about this one, but after 10-15 minutes it started to fascinate me.

Fantastic play by Actor+Director Ed James Olmos, who is raped by a guy in prison and immediately kills him. This gives him a lot of status within the prison. He becomes the leader of the Hispanic gang there, and rules things in prison even after leaving it. Some very violent scenes in this movie, especially the scene at the end. I rated this one with a 9!!!!
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Edward James Olmos Triumphs Again
soranno22 October 2002
"American Me" stands on a course with "Stand And Deliver" among the finest performances by the ever talented Edward James Olmos. Other than starring in this film, Olmos also supplies the direction for this brutal and sometimes disturbing to watch prison and street drama. The story has to do with a well respected gang leader (Olmos) who is released from prison and tries to go straight but his many years of experience among leading street gangs comes back to haunt him. Olmos is highly effective in the role. The film may not be for all tastes but if you are a fan of Olmos or of the genre, it is highly recommended.
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Powerhouse of a gangster movie
tnrcooper1 February 2011
"American Me" is a story of the growth of strength in the Mexican mafia during the 1970s and 1980s. It tracks the development of some of the key figures from their earliest days running the streets and coming into conflict with the authorities to the period in which the Mexican mafia developed great influence in the California penal system and on the streets of California influencing the drug trade. The film is based on a true story and tracks some of the same ground covered by "Blood In, Blood Out" which was released a year later. It works in flashback, from the later thoughts of director and star Edward James Olmos as Santana. The film is told as a flashback as advice given to his nephew to avoid the gang life which he has embarked on.

This is gut-check cinema. It's not for the faint of heart. The acting is excellent from Olmos as gang leader Santana and his right-hand man JD (William Forsythe). Olmos plays Santana as extremely world-weary. One can see in Santana's face the toll that his time in prison and role in La Primera (the Mexican mafia) has taken. William Forsythe is fantastic, playing JD very low-key and as committed to the Mexican mafia as Santana, so much so that perhaps he forgets he is not Mexican at times! The intra-gang and interracial conflicts are powerfully and graphically portrayed. Nothing is held back in depicting what happens in jail but it has the ring of truth and ultimately, if one wrongs one's gang, one will be held accountable by that gang.

This movie really deserves mention along with great gang movies like Goodfellas, The Godfather, and Boyz in the Hood, for its no-hold-barred depiction of the brutality and cheapness of life, but also the brotherhood and sense of identity gained within a gang.
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Definitely worth watching
latin_grrl7 February 2003
This movie has some of the most fantastic examples of Pinto poetry ever used in film. The main character, Santana has an excellent and extremely insightful grasp of the events in his past, a misspent youth, that led him to his current path in life. American Me does not gloss over the harsh realities of inner city life, but rather it embraces the brutal experiences that can lead to a life of crime. Santana does not glamorize is past, he is well aware that in order to make something of himself, he must change his ways and avoid the temptations of the streets.
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Liked 'Blood In, Blood Out' - see the original!
ras-211 July 1999
If you, like me, saw the epic 'Blood In, Blood Out' (released in the US as 'Bound By Honor') and loved it, be sure to see Edward James Olmos 'American Me'. 'Blood In Blood Out' has borrowed a lot from this movie, which is darker and harsher than Taylor Hackford's movie. I still prefer 'Blood In Blood Out' for pure entertainment value, but be sure to check this movie out. It's worth it.
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Not For The Faint Of Heart!!
davesmooth7 July 2003
This movie is such a great movie, along the lines of "Boys In The Hood". It's one of the first mainstream movies that examine the life of Mexican Americans. A gripping, gritty, no non sense tale of growing up in the gang culture of East Los Angeles. It follows the life of Santana,(Played brilliantly by Edward J. Olmos) who's mother was raped in the "Zoot Suit" riots in L.A. back in the 1940's, to produce him. So he comes out of the womb on the bad foot. Then, the guy who he thinks is his father, hates him, and it takes his mother's death before he knows the truth and understands why. Meanwhile, he grows up into the gang culture of "East Los" and spends the majority of his life in jail. It's in jail that he discovers his "power", and becomes the leader of the powerful "La EME" "The Mexican Mafia".

The Gang has the numbers, and they control life inside the prison, which in this case, art does truly imitate reality.

Once he is released from prison and returns to his old neighborhood, he discovers love, and he starts to view life in a different perspective. However, the power of the gang won't let him change, for it's viewed as weakness. He ends up back in jail, on a rap he actually didn't committ, where he has to decide, stay true to the gang, or to himself.

A harsh look at how the gang is family, and your family is the gang. A must see movie. William Forsythe also delivers a great performance.
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Raw, gritty urbane slice of life Hispanic style; Olmos' best
george.schmidt21 February 2003
AMERICAN ME (1992) *** Edward James Olmos, William Forsythe. Absorbing character study based on true life about a barrio viewpoint of street gangs with Olmos as a paroled con whose life of crime and prison meshes with the harsh realities of his world in torment. Olmos also made his big screen directorial debut here.
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A very good movie.
Chris_The_Wise26 January 2005
I remember when I first saw this movie. I was like 12 years old. I thought it was cool as h*ll ! I actually saw it again today. Its a very good movie.

Sal Lopez does a very good job playing the Mexican crimelord in the Mexican maffia, "LaEme"

I think that the film shows us all that there is hope. Even for the hopeless. In the end, Santana realises whats important in life.

very good actors in the movie period. It may seem a little bit old even for a 90:es flick.

Great movie. 8/10
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Intense, powerful and dramatic
nims-19756 December 2019
This film is a very tense thriller which looks into the life of a young man who is introduced to gang life on the tough streets of Los Angeles after spending his youth in reform school. He soon finds himself in jail facing an 18 year prison sentence. In jail he works his way to the top of the institutions violent drug trade, but on his release from prison he opts for a redemptive family centered lifestyle. This film is an absolutely brilliant film and was directed by and stars Edward James Olmos. The film also stars William Forsythe, Sal Lopez, Vira Montes and Pepe Serna. The film is a very intense film and it also a very powerful film as well as being avery dramatic film. Gang Life and the gangsters portrayed in this film was done excellently and it really was one film that had so many great things to it as well as being a bit scary at times. The film which was very interesting and enjoyable to watch was a film that I like very much and I was really amazed at Edward James Olmoses incredible talents.
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A Chicano classic
rigovega17 February 2019
American Me is now a Chicano Classic about gangs and prison life. Edward James Olmos plays the role of Santana, an inmate who becomes a leader in and out of prison. With a great supporting cast and soundtrack, the film tells a dramatic story without getting too preachy. One of Edward James Olmos best roles to this day.
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Good Movie 8/10
klever-8572220 July 2017
I honestly thought it was a good flick -- worthy of 8-stars, but I'm giving the film 10-stars to counteract the tool who said he gave it 1-star because he thought the overall rating was too high. :)

A powerful and realistic look into the gang culture within the Mexican American population. Very gritty and very disturbing, as a it should be.
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