Walk like a Champion, talk like a Champion.
Danny Trejo, known for his muscle bound tattooed body and chiselled bad looks, finally gets some real documentation to answer some of the questions audiences have been asking themselves for years. His countless appearances (something over 100 by now) in films and his reputation for tough guy characters, has earned him the well-deserved respect as a hard worker on set and true-to-life actor. It’s clear from the start that the term type-cast shouldn’t even become a question with Trejo, who at the age of 25 had no acting abilities, other than the life experiences he brings with him. His face alone is like a canvas, every crevice a different story, every scar a different tale and it’s for these unique features that he was able to secure a nice spot within Hollywood as the tough guy. In Joe Eckardt’s 2005 release Champion, Trejo recounts his struggle for redemption against his troubled life involving drugs, alcohol, violence and prison.
It wasn’t until I saw Steve Buscemi’s Animal Factory (2000) written by Trejo’s best friend and renown ex-con Edward Bunker, that I realized that Trejo had finally become a player and not just an extra or bad guy “type” in Hollywood. His role as co-producer and close consultant to Buscemi, proved that this face was clearly becoming more of active participant in the world of cinema. Now some 9 years later, Trejo is credited with 7 films as producer, something which if you told him at the age of 21 to be true, he would have laughed in your face and asked for whatever drugs you were on because they must be good.
Unfortunately Joe Eckardt first feature Champion, doesn’t seem to click with its own subject, which is truly unfortunate since the stories and material that are there are genuinely fascinating. The approach is far too distant and disinterested, coming off almost as if Trejo’s neighbour niece had fallen upon film and scrambled together her cool, famous, next door neighbour as her guinea pig for bad documentary making 101. Had the film been made by someone truly close to Trejo or passionate about his films, it would have been a different case altogether. Needless to say, the film’s format and interviewer are flat and lifeless, taking away from all the life and insanity that is Danny Trejo. Having Trejo tell stories about being the scariest mother-fucker in prison just so no one else is scarier than you and thus scares you is amazing, but having him tell it in such a cut and paste format is horribly disappointing. Coming across as a high school paper on a forgotten subject, Eckardt checks off his list one by one; what’s Trejo’s take on drugs? Prison? Movies? You get the gist. In one scene where Trejo’s son talks about Danny telling a story at dinner about going into a party with a
grenade, you catch a glimpse into the reality that is this child’s life. And of course, in turn, you also find a more suitable person to be making the documentary, his son. If the film itself were about being Danny Trejo’s son it would have been more effective. Don’t get me wrong, the stories that Trejo tells and Danny himself can be mind boggling at times. Everything you imagined looking into his face and his characters is next to true; the drugs, the prison life, the fights, the shear brutality, it’s just too bad that it’s being delivered to us in such a bleached fashion. In many ways Champion is like listening to the Dee Dee Ramone rap album. You’re so happy that it’s there and actually exists but then when you put it on you start to feel sick to your stomach and wish it didn’t.
– Detroit Burns