“You’re like two people” we hear a voice say in American Me and that line applies to the film itself. One half prison film on Montoya Santana building an empire and one half fish out of water exploring Santana living outside of his bubble experiencing the real world for the first time. These two vastly different world unfold right before our own eyes are similar to our very own lives. Individuals following rules, helping one another in a community, facing consequences for breaking a path, hierarchy of power, and among other things. Asking one very important question by the end; Should we attempt to fix things we didn’t create ourselves?
American Me follows a Mexican-American Mafia kingpin release from prison, falling in love for the first time, and grows introspective about his gangster lifestyle. The story is based around true events, but when the film tells it audience some events were fictionalize it all hits home without losing any shred of impact. It’s portrayal of criminal life is not one sided only wanting to portray greed, honor, or a place of belonging. Instead it chooses to explore choices and how influential ones action can affect a generation. How something like violence becomes a common occurrence in someone’s daily life. Exploring serious themes without a scapegoat placed on person or race, but specifically culture itself. Santana says at one point in the film “What we’d done in Compton was wrong. It was supposed to be business, but came out racial”. This simple line of dialogue gets across Santana personal feelings, but beyond that translates into a greater understanding of the crime world presented. Not all act of gang violence are fueled by racial tensions, not all criminals can get behind an act of violence, and not all criminals are accepting to negative change. There is allot more thought put into it than just obtaining power. Machismo (Spanish word meaning strong or exaggerated sense of manliness) culture is highlighted in the film leading to dehumanization. Can the habits of someone life takeover them to the point the soul that drive those habits destroy them? It has those answers no matter how difficult it is to accept the answers it provides us.
In American Me we have traditional characters alongside traditional issues; however, what separates American Me from other Hispanic crime films is the highlighted theme of two. Our film begins before our main character is even born. Upon seeing this prologue one might be quick to believe that Montoya Santana father unable to view his son in a positive light is because of how Santana came out, but instead is seen differently through his father eyes. It’s not what Santana did, but the reason behind it that he represents that disgust Santana’s father. All throughout the film we’re given one way how a scene plays out, but multiple layers behind the action committed in the film allowing two ways of seeing it. What comes across as a crime film exploring the difficulty with its own lifestyle becomes relatable. Dealing with the subject of one’s own trouble identity in face of other individuals, other groups, other cliques. At length, creating or joining a clique or gang that may facilitate or solve the problem of seeking one’s own identity, purpose in life, and place in society at large. Focusing on the true core of these issues never specifically applying only to a single group. These characters and their action might be different from our own never are they to far from allowing self reflection.
Edward James Olmos spotlessly portrays the leader the highly sensitive and aware of what leaders. Emphasizing the importance in creating, maintaining a particular image for success in the clique, which is to say in controlling perceptions at large, to command as well the respect of rival group members. William Forsythe has an equally fascinating appearance throughout the movie, as a no-nonsense gangster. Sal Lopes through his exterior embodies a broken man with coldness to everything. He hints of a more trouble man hidden beneath years of scars. The cinematography is impeccable, as is the case with the sound, and musical accompaniment or soundtrack. Direction is spotless with scenes being driven with passion behind the camera. Capturing the authenticity of the story and the raw emotion of it story.
American Me is a masterpiece beyond filmmaking becoming more than a film. It’s piece of reality showing its ugliness and beauty with two different views. Bringing to light an issue all too relevant and common problems. Lifestyles or belief systems can be larger than life, larger than what humans sometimes can control themselves.