Unexpectedly powerful and inspiring, the new documentary INMATE #1 THE RISE OF DANNY TREJO, packs a deep emotional punch.
Framed by a sitting interview with Trejo and mixed with scenes of him cruising around his old neighborhood (where he still lives), INMATE tells a life story that's deeply troubled.
With a barely there, unemotional father and an absent mother, Danny is passed around family members in a poor, California farm community. With no father figure in his life, he's drawn to the bright flame of his gangster Uncle, who introduces him to drugs, robbery and detention at a very young age.
Trejo and his lifelong friends, some actors, some lifetime criminals, provide on camera interviews as well. Trejo has lived 71 years that started horribly.
Watching him relate major events in his life, including his 20 years in the California State Prison system and the moment that he turned his back on drugs and alcohol is hypnotic.
What overwhelmed me was the kindness and goodness that Trejo has embraced ever since that day. With an almost accidental career in over 350 films, the man he is now provides such a dramatic character arc that you wouldn't buy it if it were fiction.
His children provide powerful moments as they tell of trying to reconcile the man they know with the man he was.
Trejo visits the Arizona State Prison and talks to inmates, he presents his story to NA and AA gatherings. He's a man driven by a solitary conviction that he has yet to fulfill his debt to the world.
For film fans, its splattered with great clips of his early work to his latest. Cheech Marin and actor Donal Logue add great Hollywood context,but Trejo remains the ultimate antithesis of someone "going Hollywood".
This is a powerful testament to Trejo's absolute commitment to being a better person. When he tells the inmates his philosophy of how he wakes up every morning, it hit me in the gut.
There's also a moment in which he's laughing as he often does, telling a story about going to live with his father, but after the laughter fades, the look that washes over him betrays so much pain that it's almost hard to watch.
Need to be uplifted? Need to be inspired by someone that's beat impossible odds due to sheer commitment to goodness? See INMATE #1.
Trejo's got 46 years of sobriety under his belt, and in his soul, he wants YOU to be better for it.