There have been a select number of films over the past few decades that have explored the world of girl gangs, most notably Allison Anders's 1993 feature My Crazy Life. But few films, if any, have centred on the story of a young woman trying to leave a gang, which is the core narrative of Down for Life. Riveting, painful and disconcerting in its jagged reality, Down for Life is based on a true story and takes place over the course of one urgent day.Fifteen-year-old gang leader Rascal (Jessica Romero) wakes up in her home in South Central Los Angeles with no hint that this will be a pivotal day in her life. Lovingly hectored by her devoted mother, Esther (Kate del Castillo of Under the Same Moon), about the right clothes for school, Rascal sets off to wait for her coterie of fellow Latina friends on the corner. As the members of her group arrive, they clash with a rival gang of African American girls, and this volatile and violence-ridden encounter sets off a series of events that soon has Rascal on the run for her life.Rascal has an ally, however, in one of her teachers, Mr. Shannon (Danny Glover), who believes she has a talent for writing. He is trying to convince a skeptical principal (Elizabeth Peña) and his personal friend Mr. Hightower (Snoop Dogg) – as well as Rascal herself – that she deserves a potentially life-altering opportunity to attend a writers' workshop. Rascal instinctively knows that the choices she faces on this day may mean the difference between life and death, but it isn't until tragedy strikes a close friend that she realizes leaving the gang could be just as dangerous as staying in it.The film was shot on location in the Watts section of Los Angeles, and benefits from the bristling energy of local teens in various roles. Director Alan Jacobs (Nina Takes a Lover) manages to capture the jet-fuelled momentum of Rascal's day while providing quieter moments in which we see the complex vulnerabilities of these seemingly hardened young women. In her first film role, Romero is charismatic and crazy tough as Rascal, while del Castillo gives a memorable performance as a former gang member turned mom, perhaps the only person who truly understands what's at stake for her headstrong young daughter.