Film Review – Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo


 

DIRECTED BY: Brett Harvey

STARRING: Danny Trejo, Donal Logue, Cheech Marin, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez, Danielle Trejo, Gilbert Trejo, Max Martinez, Jhonnie Harris and Craig Balkam

 

SYNOPSIS

Having spent much of his early life in prison, actor Danny Trejo discusses his career and how he has overcome a life of crime and addiction.

Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo reveals the extraordinary life journey of Hollywood’s most unlikely hero, Danny Trejo. Through interviews with the man himself as well as family members, friends and co-stars, we hear stories of his early life of drugs, armed robbery in his teens to his hard prison time in his early adulthood would lead him to taking a new path that would eventually lead him to the red carpets of Hollywood blockbusters and helping troubled addicts.

Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo is Bretty Harvey’s fourth documentary feature that focuses on the seventy-five (seventy-six now as of last month) year-old Danny Trejo giving a first hand account of his demons in his childhood and how he discovered a form of redemption though the most unlikely of journeys. The film I believe it’s out as of yet in North America on digital till the 7th July, but it has been on digital for the last week here in the UK/Ireland and tonight I decided to rent it via Amazon Prime as I’ve been looking forward to seeing this documentary since the trailer was released for it and it absolutely lived up to my expectations.

 

Danny Trejo hasn’t been shy of his past and here he lays bare his childhood, particularly when growing up in his teens in Pacoima, Los Angeles, how he only saw two roads of what would be expected of him as he got older: labourer or criminal, and how influenced he was by his uncle Gilbert due to his lifestyle of money and fancy car. This, as he discusses in detail, led him down the road taking drugs (particularly heroin) in order to blank everything out of what he was feeling. This is handled delicately by Brett Harvey as we follow Trejo through his old stomping ground, as well as have several photos to show us his childhood and it’s presented in a way that doesn’t demean Danny Trejo’s choices, but offers reasons as we follow through the rest of the documentary highlighting that it’s never too late to reach beyond what is expected of you by everyone and, most of all, yourself.

 

The documentary also goes into great detail of Trejo’s time spent in San Quentin and Soledad state prisons, where he would gain a reputation that he was not to be messed with, get clean (and currently are forty-six years of sobriety) and become a champion boxer in prison, as well as become a drug counselor and how this would unexpectedly lead him to his first acting gig on Runaway Train. It’s interesting how many actors fear of being typecast, but it’s amazing to see how throughout his career that Danny Trejo embraced it because, as he states here that he’s lived it, hence being Inmate #1, Gang member #1 etc. The film highlights many of his key roles on the big screen, from getting his first character name credit in Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, to playing the intense Navajas in Desperado, how he starred in Michael Mann’s Heat with his characters named in tribute to his uncle Gilbert, being an icon for a young generation growing up on the Spy Kids films, to reaching legendary status for Robert Rodriguez’s Mexploitation film Machete, turning him into an action-lead at sixty-six. The film also highlights how Danny Trejo has made it his personal mission to give back to society and repay the debt he believes he owes by speaking to convicts about getting clean, leading him returning to one of the prisons he was in, and also his food donations to the community, working with animal shelters and how, oddly enough for him now, police would stop to get selfies with him rather than arresting him. There’s a few highlights in this film, such as how on the set of Con Air, the ensemble are talking about how tough they are (clearly unaware of Danny Trejo’s background really) and then Nic Cage states he’s only scared of one person here, pointing to Trejo and saying “…and that’s you Danny”, as well as how Danny Trejo learned of his mothers passing whilst on the set of Muppets Most Wanted and how it took the Kermit the Frog actor, in character, to have him break down in tears telling him that he was sorry to hear about his mother.

 

The film is well structured for the most part by Brett Harvey, and it’s well edited by Stephen Green, due to how rich of a journey Danny Trejo has been through, but the last twenty minutes kind of feel rushed in how it delivers several stories and fades in and out between them and there’s a few times you believe the documentary is over but it keeps going. I could easily watch another hour about the life of Danny Trejo, it’s just that there’s a few things brought up here, such as Danny talking about how he had a tumour removed and how he reflected on what would’ve happened if he had it during his stint in prison, it’s revealed and then never further explored than that sentence by Danny but like I said, there’s so much of Danny Trejo’s journey to tell that it is almost impossible to fit it into a an hour and forty-seven minute runtime, but Harvey manages it tremendously well.

 

VERDICT

Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo is a fascinating documentary with Danny Trejo that covers a tremendous amount of detail of his childhood, time in prison and how he would become an actor and how he’s paying back to society. I could easily have enjoyed a further fifteen-twenty minutes added on in the documentary to expand some of the things discussed in the last twenty minutes, but I absolutely recommend that you check this out. 

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