American Me (1992)
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Well-acted by Edward James Olmos and William Forsythe. Character portrayals are done very well, and you almost wish these guys would come to their senses and turn away from this life. But, deep down, you know this is impossible. Emotionally disturbing portrayal of how Santana's parents horrible humiliation could literally ring down through the years, and sadly affect generations, literally blowing up this family for decades to come. A poignant message as to how the racist past of this country could have such devastating consequences. But, that's just an aside.
Well-done, thoughtful portrayal of both the tight brotherhood these guys were capable of sharing, contrasted with the utterly brutal and vicious methods used to keep order, and to settle scores.
A movie which attempts to show us the varying forces and pressures, and the twisted logic, which make a situation like this possible.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!!!!
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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
It is more comprehensive and also shows the horrible violence and the damages that the main character got during all the time in prison. I have seen this movie before i saw "Blood in blood out" and therefore "Blood in blood out" was a big disappointment to me. The actors are much better here and the hole movie feels much more serious. I have never been an angle and i can relate much more with this movie.
I have given it 9/10 because of some small details. See it, you won´t forget it.
American Me is a straightforward prison drama.
Nobody in this film emotes and pass the K-Y jelly cause there is more guy on guy action in this movie than in the men's room at a Sex in the City wrap party. Add in the bathroom/drug smuggling scenes and you may be squirming in your seat for more reasons than a slow pace.
In addition a lot of older actors can play characters in their twenties. Even those that have obvious hairline issues (see the later Porky's movies) seem to pull it off. Edward James Olmos is one man who should never even try. He looks like he was born fifty. He also plays the lead with the charisma of a sullen rock.
In addition to the miscasting and sodomy American Me suffers from serious script issues. It simply takes at face value the characters contention that they are king of the world. They are not. It is one thing for the characters themselves to be misguided (as they are most certainly are) but the movie itself seems not to realize what big losers these guys are. Sure they are king of the cellblock. Hurrah, that's like being voted carny of the month.
A good first 45 minutes or so quickly melts into underacted pathos (Nobody emotes in this movie, cause they are all tough guys see.) and misguided plot twists (the whole taking on the mob bit was horribly done). The movie just keeps getting worse and worse.
Oh and Olmos's character writes poetry. Really bad rhyming poetry. Yup poetry and anal sex, American Me is one makeover away from its own Bravo series.
A powerful and realistic look into the gang culture within the Mexican American population. Very gritty and very disturbing, as a it should be.