Review by David McCoy
Audio: DD Plus 5.1 English, DUB: French DD Plus 2.0
Subtitles: Optional English SDH, French
Extras: Lives in Hazard documentary, Theatrical Trailer
Released: June 26th 2007
Gut-wrenching, brutal, and powerful,
American Me is not enjoyable in
the conventional sense, but nevertheless stands out as one of the year's
most impressive purely dramatic offerings. It's a story of violence and
its dehumanizing consequences that, in some ways, is reminiscent of The
Godfather, with characters that echo those from the Puzo/Ford-Coppola
epic. Director Edward James Olmos fearlessly takes aim at the culture of
machismo which has enveloped so many inner city youths. This is an
unrelenting, unalloyed condemnation of that lifestyle, a portrait of the
sort of brutality that violence begets.
The story centers around Santana (Olmos), a small time hood on the outside who becomes a big time prison gang leader on the inside. Santana supposedly organizes his fellow prisoners in an attempt to improve their conditions, but what he's really after is power. Once he has tasted it, he can't get enough, and those who stand against him are ruthlessly trodden underfoot, often ending up in the morgue.
While one should commend Universal for releasing a wide range of catalog titles so early in HD-DVD’s life cycle, it needs to be stated that un-restored film prints will look agonizingly bad in high-definition. In fact, without the softness of standard definition, problems with a source print are so noticeable as to be distracting. Unfortunately, American Me (1.85:1 1080p) looks like a neglected carcass on display. The level of detail is much higher than what you get with any SD-DVD, but there is a smoky haze that covers the image like a fog settling over San Francisco. This haze highlights the dancing grain in the film structure, and there are several small nicks and scratches. This may be the worst HD-DVD video presentation that I’ve seen. (Ed. I noted many instances of digital artefacts - more prominent than on the standard DVD release.)
The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 English track is front heavy and heavily dominated by the center channel. Gunshots sound flat and muffled, as do the actors’ voices. Even the music sounds rather thin.
You can also watch the movie with a DD Plus 2.0 stereo French dub. Optional English SDH and French subtitles support the audio.
There aren’t a lot of extras on this disc, but the Lives in Hazard one-hour documentary is an excellent companion piece to the movie. The doc examines gang life and gang members who participated in the making of the movie. One actor was shot a few days after he finished his scenes; since he was blinded, he could not even see his own performance. A youth counselor who negotiated a truce between several gangs in order to make the movie was also killed, possibly by her former gang. This is a very hard-hitting extra that helps de-romanticize feature films’ general portrayal of criminal life.
The disc also has a theatrical trailer.
Finally, the “My Scenes” feature allows you to bookmark your favorite scenes.