Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1993. Hollywood Pictures, Touchwood Pacific Partners 1, Vato De Atole Productions. Story by Ross Thomas, Screenplay by Jimmy Santiago Baca, Jeremy Iacone, Floyd Mutrux. Cinematography by Gabriel Beristain. Produced by Jerry Gershwin, Taylor Hackford. Music by Bill Conti. Production Design by Bruno Rubeo. Costume Design by Shay Cunliffe. Film Editing by Fredric Steinkamp, Karl F. Steinkamp.
The flaws in Taylor Hackford’s epic about three men growing up in East L.A. somehow combine with its strengths to make it more compelling. Damian Chapa gives a terrible, endlessly watchable performance as a young man who leaves his white father behind in the midwest and comes back to his Latina mother’s neighbourhood, passing for white but speaking with the same (painfully fake sounding) accent as the locals. Coming back means reconnecting with his cousin Benjamin Bratt, who is the head of a local gang, and Bratt’s stepbrother Jesse Borrego (the film’s standout performance) who has aspirations as an artist. Three fascinating hours unfold with the turns of events that affect their lives: Borrego is seriously injured in a rival gang’s violent act of retaliation against them, plunging him into a despair that leads to drug addiction, Bratt’s revenge leads to his joining the army and then becoming a local cop, Chapa goes to prison for years and must navigate survival among his fellow inmates. The strong script and beautifully paced direction keeps tabs on the three characters as they intersect with each other’s destinies, then a decade later, with all this experience under their belts, they find themselves grappling with choices they need to make: do they lead the lives they’ve been set up for, or reach for more? There are plenty of scenes that feel overripe in their melodrama, there are moments when I expect the cast to bust out into a number from West Side Story, but somehow the enforced artificiality contributes to the immediacy of the character’s needs, drawing your attention and interest further in rather than turning you off.