Thursday, April 5, 2012

Day 351 - American Me

American Me (1992) directed by Edward James Olmos

American Me is a crime drama depicting the fictionalized account of the rise of the Mexican Mafia, the largest and most powerful gang in U.S. Prisons. At its center is Santana, played by Edward James Olmos, its charismatic and ruthless founder and leader. This is a film about prison life which is every bit as harsh as we could only imagine.

We are naturally relieved when bad guys get locked away but prison often makes them even badder and more criminal minded. As Andy Dufrane says in Shawshank Redemption, "It took me going to prison that made me a criminal." What films like American Me and Blood In Blood Out show us is that the influence of prison gangs often reach outside prison walls, entering our neighborhoods via the drugs they control, the violence they spread, and the influence they have on the people. In this film, we learn the in and outs of the gang, their rituals and credos, and the vast crime network they control including drugs, murder, gambling and prostitution. It is a frightening and cold look into a world so far removed from our own we can hardly believe this is happening in our proverbial backyard.

I think we all have some sort of fascination with gang culture, whether we are enamored or horrified from it. I was totally engrossed by American Me. It's a man's kind of movie, powerful, gripping, hardcore, thuggish and real, yet it also contains a sentimental and intelligent core. Santana is a natural born criminal but did he have a choice in his life? Is he a product of his environment, a vicious socio-economical cycle of poverty and racism? Or does he contain his own thoughts and have his own free will. We learn from the woman he cares about that he is like two men. "One is like a child who doesn't know how to dance or make love to a woman. The other is a killer." By the end Santana is able to reflect back on the choices he has made in life and wonders if it's not too late to change. Many others aren't as fortunate to gain that perspective as they remained trapped in this cycle.

Grade: A-

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