AMERICAN ME - Golden Oldies Finally On DVD
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: Although it was a too rough for my taste some 27 years ago, this anti-gang film from Edward James Olmos is well-intentioned and has gained some respect over the years. Now it’s on Blu-ray for the first time, thanks to The Shout! Factory. My review was published on March 13, 1992.
"American Me" is a rough anti-gang movie, and first-time director Edward James Olmos, who also stars and co-produced, has been very vocal about his intentions in depicting the harsh reality of life on the streets and in prison.
But while Olmos has made a bold movie, one tough enough to scare kids who may think gangs or prisons provide appealing lifestyles, mainstream moviegoers will probably be repelled by the film's unrelenting brutality.
"Inspired by a true story," the ads say, though "inspired" hardly seems the most appropriate word.
Olmos' character is the centerpiece, beginning with his youth as a Hispanic teen (played initially by Panchito Gomez) raised in East Los Angeles. Soon, he robs a store, lands in a youth detention center and grows up in Folsom Prison, where scenes were actually filmed.
Edward James Olmos, writer, director and star of 'American Me' (1992)
The bulk of the film, at a deliberate pace, follows Olmos' character through his prison years. As he matures, Olmos learns to earn respect through violence and eventually forms his own gang — dubbed the "Mexican Mafia."
When he is eventually paroled, Olmos doesn't blend into society very well. But a brief romance with a neighbor woman forces him to examine his life, which ultimately leads to his downfall.
Olmos as director seems to most emulate Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" movies, striving for a sweep and epic scope that is well beyond his grasp. He especially falters with a sequence that intercuts a scene of Olmos' first encounter with heterosexual lovemaking, which eventually turns to rape, and a horrifying scene of violence in prison, which ends with a man being sodomized with a huge knife.
Evelina Fernandez, Edward James Olmos, 'American Me' (1992)
More effective are the performances, headed by Olmos himself, who anchors the film with a low-key seething demeanor, much of his voice-over dialogue softly spoken in rhyme, setting an ominous tone for the entire production. Also impressive was Evelina Fernandez, as the woman who changes him only to discover it's far too late.
It must be said that, to his credit, Olmos uses violence that is horrifying but not graphic; he sidesteps the potential for gore galore. This is not a prison-splatter picture. But that hardly mitigates the pummeling the audience is in for. Or the fact that the film's message comes awfully late in its two-hour length.
"American Me" is rated a very rough R for considerable violence, profanity, vulgarity, sex, nudity and drugs.