‘I Am Gangster’ Film Festival Review
I Am Gangster was covered as part of our Tallgrass Film Festival 13 (2015) coverage. For more on our Tallgrass Coverage, check out our ProNerd Tour Page.
There’s no easy way to put it. The gang violence and corruption in certain areas, specifically outside of Los Angeles, is real and often overlooked or even glorified by the media. Hollywood shows intense shootouts with gang members getting shot down as heroes in a blaze of glory. Cops are often the bad guys and incapable of doing their job. Corruption is only present when it benefits the story and rarely shown in a realistic manner. Hollywood makes the gang life thrilling, and even sometimes fun.
Moritz Rechenberg’s I Am Gangster does not.
Following a variety of different characters but ultimately focusing on three, I Am Gangster follows the life of a gang-banger (Abraham Bobadilla as Lito), an up-and-coming teen (Gilberto Ortiz as Rio), and a corrections officer (Rick Mancia as Sargent Flores) fighting to survive in a corrupt and drug-driven neighborhood. The three are deeply ingrained in a world that has become incredibly corrupt and dangerous, with kids using with weapons and dealing drugs in school and gun fights in the street happening on a nightly basis.
Lito is doing everything he can to teach the next generation of gangsters for the neighborhood’s illegal drug organization while also trying to make extra money with more violence and drugs to help with his baby on the way. His life is on a dark road. Rio’s life isn’t, though, with opportunities ahead of him while other kids on the street trying to pull him in. And with Sargent Flores getting more involved in the correctional facility, Rio tries his hardest to stay away from the corruption and the control of the gang leaders from within.
The arcs in I Am Gangster cover many aspects of the community but doesn’t look like a large mess. The movie ties these arcs together nicely, and even the characters that don’t directly connect are all making decisions that can eventually save people in the future or continue to place the neighborhood kids in the life many are already suffering through.
A large cast is never easy to manage, and giving so many characters screen time takes calculations that movies often fail at. I Am Gangster remains effective even with this challenge, showing the strength of Rechenberg and the team behind the camera.
Bobadilla and Ortiz, are nearly flawless throughout I Am Gangster. Of the three main actors, Bobadilla delivers a convincing and scene-stealing performance in each scene he is in. Tattooed up to show his allegiances, Bobadilla walks the walk, talks the talk, and even lives the life of a street thug for about two hours.
As strong as most of the acting is, a couple members of the cast keep this independent feature from being flawless. Mancia’s Officer Flores was somewhat stale and flat at times, never really displaying emotion. And David Barrera’s drug kingpin was somewhat unconvincing, not for a lack of trying. But even they weren’t bad enough to ruin the movie. The fact that those were the two weakest of a movie that frequently gave more than fifteen of its cast important screen time shows how strong the performances were in I Am Gangster.
Outside of a large cast, Rechenberg also went a challenging and different route with the filming. The cameras were frequently sitting over somebody’s shoulder, allowing the movie to play out like a third-person shooter (video game) and put the audience directly into the action. It did initially take a moment to adjust, but once I was comfortable with the camera angles, this style helped the scenes become even more intense and alive because it pulled the audience right into the action.
But outside of the normal components of making a film, I Am Gangster still has a message to deliver. The movie is made with a message in mind, giving people a realistic glimpse into wars on the street happening right here in this country.
I Am Gangster builds and builds, like a slow-roasting drama typically does, and climaxes with a few light blows right before a knockout punch at the end. The movie ends with a final scene that leaves the audience speechless, some even in tears, reminded that the acts portrayed in I Am Gangster aren’t a glorified drug-and-gangster drama but rather a glimpse at reality.