“If you’re gonna be a criminal, be a criminal 24hrs a day.” – Danny Trejo
Once upon a time, in a movie we viewed way, way back, there was an image of a man who always piqued our interest. Full of mystery, his presence demanded attention. While we complied, his existence couldn’t be denied, it was branded in our brains, and when you least expected it… there he was again. Another film, another scene, another moment we couldn’t deny the man had IT. Whatever IT was, this man-of-mystery had IT. From looks to demeaner, this guy defined grade A badassery. But it’s Hollywood. Isn’t that what people are paid to do? Play a role to the best of their abilities. Make it believable. After all, this dude’s just an actor, right? Right? Well, lets just say there was a bit more behind the curtain.
INMATE #1: THE RISE OF DANNY TREJO is a solid documentary that displays yours truly in a different spotlight. He’s starred in his own films before, but this is literally his! A straightforward exposé on a raw journey from his early days of mischief to glitz-n-glam. From the alpha’s mouth himself, Trejo shares one of the most fascinating comeback stories ever via one of the most unlikely journeys.
After watching this piece, with pleasure I say Danny Trejo is the embodiment of what redemption defines. Why 2nd chances matter. For starters, this doc pulls no punches as it lays out raw reality upon an interesting character actor who transitioned from an ‘image’ to a ‘name’! INMATE #1 isn’t only entertaining as it takes you on an adventure of personal, uneven footing, but it’s also engaging, endearing, and at times emotionally driven!
The trip down memory lane starts minutes into the film as Trejo cruises around his old stomping grounds of Pacoima (LA) in a 1956 Chevy Bel Air. As he greets inhabitants of the area, he also takes moments to dive into grunge and grit of his earlier years. The film sets itself in a way where it’s designed to simulate you’re in that same vehicle with him driving around listening to him share his struggles. Pointing out spots with backstory, like many, Trejo became a product of the environment. Molded by his surroundings, the film kicks into gear once Trejo dives deeper into influences and steppingstones towards sketchy paths.
The outline of INMATE #1 isn’t foreign to us. We’ve learned about Trejo through the years as he became more of a household name. But what we didn’t know is unapologetically expressed throughout the run. Lets just say homie was Machete before Machete was cool! At 76, Trejo has lived many lifestyles to outshine any action hero near-n-dear to our heart. Adding layers to the history of Danny Trejo, the film is also accompanied by commentary from friends, family members, Hollywood peers, and even its title of “Inmate #1” has its moment to shine as former inmate B948 (in San Quentin) breaks down his start in the business with his very first film, RUNAWAY TRAIN (’85) starring Eric Roberts.
Having been released from prison in August, 1969, the only “gripe” I have would be how much powerful this film would have been on the 50th anniversary of his release last year. But that doesn’t hurt the film at all. It’s just a personal thing. Truth-be-told, INMATE #1: THE RISE OF DANNY TREJO is a special attraction. An open book that is as harsh as it is humbling. One I truly recommend for those who have been following his career through the years. You’ll get a lot out of this and to a degree it’ll help view him from a different perspective. The film garners him a newfound respect. With no sign of stopping any time soon, Danny Trejo’s reputation has many tentacles of impact, and all this doc does is help solidify his place and purpose. A place and purpose that can serve as encouragement for others out there walking on the edge of personal chaos.
Run Time: 1:44
Featuring interviews with: Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Robert Rodriguez, Michelle Rodriguez, Donal Logue
Directed by: Brett Harvey