Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo Movie Review: A Complex and Compelling Story

As a culture, we love all kinds of stories. Stories of people coming from nothing to achieve great success. Stories of addicts and criminals who change their lives and in turn change the world. Stories of parents who want to give their kids everything they never had. Stories of love, and stories of loss. And while we have all watched these stories play out in the movies we love, not everyone has lived all of these stories in a single lifetime.

But Danny Trejo has.

Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo is the new documentary about the life of actor, businessman, and activist Danny Trejo. Directed by Brett Harvey, Inmate #1 combines interviews with Trejo, his family, and his friends, photos from Trejo’s life, and clips from his over 300 films to tell this incredible story of the many stories that Danny Trejo has lived in his 71 years.

Danny Trejo grew up (and still lives) in Pacoima, CA, where there weren’t a lot of choices about where life would take him. He could either live a life of hard work for little pay like his father, or become a gangster like his Uncle Gilbert. But while watching TV and movies as a kid, Trejo watched the work of actor Pedro Gonzalez and this sparked an interest that perhaps there was something else out there for him besides hard labor or crime. But while Gonzalez became a hero to Trejo, his Uncle Gilbert was a more accessible hero, and sometimes people pick the wrong heroes to worship. And by the age of 12, Trejo was already heading down the path of addiction and crime that would eventually land him in prison.

But like any good story, that was only Trejo’s first act, and Inmate #1 goes on to tell a complex and compelling story that captures you from the very beginning. This documentary is beautifully shot and well structured. It doesn’t skip over or sugar coat the life experiences of Trejo. And while his fans will really love this film, Inmate #1 is much more than the documentary about his life, it also explores issues of representation, race, socio-economic status, culture, and addiction.

Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo has a run time of 107 minutes and is available in digital form on July 7.

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Darcy Staniforth

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