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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on December 24, 2003
I used to wonder if racism could be considered an north american institution; a part of the north american culture. I don't any more after watching this film.
There's is a word used in the film "The Shawshank Redemption" that applies fine to American History X, and it's meant to point over the attitude to life of a prisoner (played by Morgan Freeman in that film, a color actor) which described very well how the human behavior could be "shaped" by the institutions (there represented by the prison system). Well..., American History X portraits to a modest extent, how a paternal figure, friends and even the neighborhood may turn a young naive wasp boy into an active racist pro-nazi leader. He do becomes an outstanding leader when his conduct was molded by the social pressure of his racial pairs.
The plot puts on the front how he became "institutionalized" after his father was killed by ratial motifs. Irrational anger and a desire for revenge can become an explosive mix when racism enters.
The film is quite powerful and Edward Norton couldn't be better as Derek Vineyard, playing the "institucionalized" racist leader.
The film puts on the table what "pushes" white people to violently attack and discriminate black, hispanic and asian people and viceverse, and surprinsingly, also at some point in the film, why each racial group may do care and protect to its racial "opposite" or even to destroy its race equals.
Don't miss it if you truly want to know more about how racism can be spreaded or avoided in North America and whom the truly victims are of this social, yet unsolved conflict in the USA at the beginning of the 21th. century.
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on December 2, 2003
From an incredibly unknown director, "American History X" is a powerful film that brings the audience face-to-face with white supremacy. But this is not the easily dismissed, ignorant white supremacy that is represented in so many films these days. Rather, it is white supremacy in the mind of an extremely intelligent young man played by Edward Norton. While anyone with reasonable intelligence can see the holes in Derek Vinyard's logic, the arguments themselves are delivered with powerful and forceful eloquence that is absolutely shocking. Norton's performance is riveting; I am constantly amazed at the depth of his acting ability. One is able to go from hating him to being moved by him to absolutely routing for him-all in the same film.
The movie is extremely graphic and moving. "American History X" is not your typical film about racism and violence. It manages to emerge from the rubble and provide a positive message for those of us who are left to deal with the world. Hate is learned; one can see that in the lives of these two neo-Nazis. But it can also be forgotten. The most important thing, however, is to never learn to hate in the first place. Not only does this film provide insight into the making of a racist, it empathizes with those who are unwittingly caught up in the false logic the white supremacists sell. Many movies try to dismiss those who hate. This film tries to understand where they are coming from and shows us how close we all are to crossing the line. I highly recommend this film to everyone.
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on November 1, 2003
this movie was written by a certain david mckenna. he grew up and went to my high school together. a couple of years ago i had a chance to talk to him after a very chance encounter in santa monica. dave explained that his script was completely rewritten after he sold the rights to it.
the original ending was the most important section of the film and it was completely altered. the original script calls for a accidental murder of the character danny, and a more thoughtful exposition of the thesis of the film, which is principally about fear and how fear shapes our societies, and a small view into how this might come about.
dave explained that the edward norton "skinhead" character's realization of ignorance and fear was much more fully and subtley developed than in the final cut. this is unfortunate, and i think that dave's original script would have made a more meaningful movie.
the idea of portraying a charasmatic white power neo-nazi is absolutely controversial, but in analysing the movie ( even the final product ) i think it is very clear that the "logic" behind nazi theories shown is extremely faulty. in fact, the inspiration for "derek" to embrace these ideas is absolutely linked to his personal and emotional experiences and not his logical mind. if you want to judge for yourself, watch the film closely!
all in all, this film was well directed, and in my opinion very well acted. certain parts could have been made more realistic, like the basketball sequence. (ed norton is not a basketball good player by any standards...but that is trivial).
this is a movie that interested me, and if you watch it remember that it was not intended by the writer to play out exactly as it does.
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on October 12, 2003
I thought this an interesting, well-acted movie. In response to the comments of some previous reviewers, I don't think it was meant to be anti-conservative propaganda, for the simple fact that most of Derek's conservative views (on issues like Rodney King and illegal immigrants) were never rebutted at any point during the movie. To me, the movie seemed to be saying that blind hatred and violence are not productive means of addressing complex social problems. It is true, as another reviewer wrote, that the movie didn't offer any real solution to racism, but I don't think that was the point. No one has the "magic solution" to racism, but Derek's actions before he was sent to jail were clearly not the solution (they only lead to further division), and I think the movie succeeded in demonstrating that. By the way, just to tell you a little about myself, I'm black, male, I'm not a Democrat (no political affiliation), and I believe there are serious problems with the affirmative action system....
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on August 7, 2003
First off one of the best things about this movie was Edward Norton's performance. In my opinion he's one of the best actors in hollywood.
. The plot is somewhat predictable but this doesn't subtract from the powerful theme. This story attempts to delve into the social tensions between minority groups and focuses specifically on the circumstances and environment that create someone like Derek, a guy who becomes fraught with hatred after his father is murdered by black drug dealers. The movie doesn't begin there; rather, it gradually traces the circumstances that influenced Derik's racist thinking.
I wouldn't say there are any political motifs here. Some may call this "liberal propaganda" but I'm not quite sure that is the case. Sure some of the racists held 'conservative' views but I'm against Affirmative action, for welfare reform, and a proponent for individual responsibility. Does that make me a racist? Absolutely not. Besides the fact that I'm Mexican-American, I do not think that because I hold these views I therefore think that everyone has equal opportunity (the level of opportunity accorded is dependent on social class) and that social inequities are necessarily the result of indolence, racial inferiority, or personal irresponsibility. I personally found this film to be very interesting. Racism is not a black and white problem. Racism comes from all sides.
I recommend this film.
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on July 21, 2003
"American History X" tells the story of Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), a neo-nazi leader of a skinheads gang of Venice Beach, California. Derek is introduced as a racist scumbag in the first scene, when he kills a couple of black men in front of his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong); Derek is sent to prison and Danny gets so impressed with the actions of his older brother that he decides to follow his footsteps as a radical racist. Then the movie is divided in two kind of scenes: the black and white scenes, the flashbacks, where we can see the past of Derek, his thoughts about every person which is different to a white american person, he just hates black people, jews, mexicans, asiatic people, etc., he just hates them all. And then are the color scenes, the present, where we see a new Derek, a reformed Derek, he is now ashamed of his racist past, and now he has to fight to save his brother of following his footsteps.
"American History X" is not a popcorn movie; is a powerful drama with strong scenes, strong language, and a very disturbing ending; it requires an open mind because the subjects that the story introduces to us may be controversial.
Edward Norton is incredible as Derek, in this movie he offers his best performance so far, and that's saying a lot. In "American History X" he is as impressive as Robert De Niro was in "Raging Bull" or as Daniel Day-Lewis was in "Gangs Of New York". The rest of the cast is also perfect in this movie, particularly Edward Furlong as Danny. The extras on the DVD are not very good, but one of the deleted scenes is very interesting.
Perhaps "American History X" may offend some people, but I'm pretty sure that the open minded people would appreciate this movie.
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on July 18, 2003
Well, if you look at any of my other recommendations, you can tell that I believe that Ed Norton is one of the best actors today. His performance in American History X is no different. Norton continues to avoid the character molds that so many actors fall into.
Norton, a dangerous skinhead in the first half of the movie, sheds light on the violence and hatred of certain separatist groups. His violent acts culminate in a very violent murder of a young African American male. The movie then follows Derek Vinyard (Norton) to jail revealing the stress that he feels dealing with the other in-mates. Released from jail, Derek Vinyard tries very hard to lead a new life while at the same time finds out how his past activities effected his younger brother. One of the best storylines in this movie is the relationship between Norton and Edward Furlong.
The DVD's is high quality, however, there is nothing extra provided for the DVD fan. Even with the lack of extras, this is still one of Norton's best films and well worth the price.
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on July 9, 2003
The acting in this film, if cut away from the plot and directing, would definitely rate 5 stars. Unfortunately the other elements of the film drag it down just a bit, but it remains a thought-provoking and affecting film.
The plot centers around two sons in a Venice Beach, CA family. The older son, Derek Vinyard, is a former neo-Nazi skinhead who has just been released from prison (he killed two black men while still a skinhead). He comes home to find that his younger brother Danny is headed down the same path, and tries to convince Danny to turn his life around before it is too late. The film starts off very promisingly, with incredible performances from Edward Norton and Edward Furlong. The only minor annoyance is the use of a contrived technique that uses black-and-white for flashbacks and color for present-day events. Dialogue is snappy, and the rantings of Norton's character have an eerie half-logic that can almost make you understand why Derek gains so many followers. There are a string of striking images, such as skinheads bathing a black store clerk in milk during a robbery. The film stays strong until after its midpoint, but it begins to descend into plot contrivances and melodrama. These notes make the ending utterly unsatisfying and a little disappointing, considering what came before. It remains a powerful movie, but tantalizes with the prospect of how great it could have been had the third-act denouement not descended into overdone predicability.
A final note: very interesting casting sees supporting performances from Beverly D'Angelo, Fairuza Balk, Ethan Suplee, and even Paul Le Mat from "American Graffiti".
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on December 16, 2002
"American History X" is an ambitious movie that takes direct aim at American racism, an institution as old as the country itself. The movie places its focus on a currently prominent manifestation of racism in America, namely the proliferation of Neo-Nazi skinheads who take their cues from Hitler. Pulling no punches in its depictions of language and violence, it seeks to discredit the hateful views of racists by exposing their roots in the confusion and anger felt by many young people. And it's a rousing success. With a searing lead performance by Edward Norton, the movie is a thorough and intelligent examination of what causes hatred and what can end it.
The plot, much of which is told through flashbacks, concerns the situation of two brothers in Los Angeles, Derek Vinyard (played by Norton) and the younger Danny (Edward Furlong). After they move to Venice Beach, Derek becomes a top student and basketball star, but their neighborhood is also gradually taken over by gangs. When Derek and Danny's father is murdered while fighting a fire at a crack house, Derek develops a hatred towards minorities and immigrants that manifests itself in his Neo-Nazi activities. After killing two black guys for trying to steal his car, Derek gets three years in prison. While inside, he befriends his black coworker in the laundry and becomes incensed by the behavior of his fellow skinheads. With the help of a concerned teacher, Derek repudiates his hateful ways and decides to tell Danny his story in the hopes of keeping him from going down the same path.
On the whole, the movie is extremely convincing and thought-provoking. It does an excellent job of illustrating the lure of racism for America's disaffected white youth, connecting it with the urban problems of crime and immigration. When Derek gives a speech to a crowd of his followers decrying the results of America's lenient immigration policy, he says a number of things that non-skinheads have been saying for years. As this movie tries to portray, what makes racism such an attractive belief is the ability of men like Derek Vinyard to seize on real feelings and problems that confront a broad range of people. When young people with strong emotions feel marginalized or unsafe in their own neighborhoods, and someone like Derek Vinyard comes along telling them their problems are all the fault of some other group, the message can sound pretty seductive, and "American History X" deserves credit for depicting that reality.
Ultimately, though, the message of the movie is that for all its surface appeal, hatred isn't the answer. As the well-intentioned teacher Dr. Sweeney makes Derek see, those who seek answers by blaming some other group aren't going to find any answers because they're not asking the right questions. Derek tries to convey that sentiment to Danny, telling him that hating minorites didn't make him feel any better, it just made him even angrier. That's the movie's underlying message, summarized by Danny's line "hate is baggage." What "American History X" tries to do through its story is expose the ultimately counterproductive nature of hate and bigotry, and it does an excellent job.
Now, this movie isn't perfect. Although it does certainly have an admirable subject, it can get a bit preachy in addressing it. For example, Derek's transformation in prison is a little too clean-cut. He doesn't approve of a fellow skinhead's drug-dealing, he befriends a black inmate who may as well have "stereotype" and "message" printed on his prison jumpsuit, and bang! He's not a racist anymore. And all Derek needs to do is tell his story to his impressionable younger brother on his first day out of jail, and all of a sudden Danny has rejected racism too. I realize that things may have to be accomplished quickly for the purposes of a two-hour movie, but I really think this aspect could've been "earned" a bit more. It's just a little bit too "easy" for me.
All shortcomings aside, though, "American History X" is more than up to the lofty task it takes upon itself. It could've simply taken a "racists are evil" approach, but it's surprisingly perceptive in its depiction of the seductive nature of bigotry. The movie tells us that hatred is learned, and that an emphasis on our shared humanity can go a long way toward solving the problem. Sure, it can get a bit preachy, but it has a message worth hearing.
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on November 8, 2002
I was genuinely stunned after having watched this film- a truly powerful movie that is an amazingly well-crafted piece of filmmaking, and *gasp*- a somewhat balanced presentation of the views of a white nationalist- in this case a young neo-Nazi Venice Beach skinhead. I was so impressed with the film, but I still cannot say for sure which factor was more influential- the great movie-making or the relative fairness given to the bad-guys' views. With the scope and articulacy afforded Derek Vineyard's arguements, and the lame, somewhat unbelievable turnaround he shows at the end, one wonders how this was ever sanctioned by New Line. Sadly, such films usually never get out of the notebook. I have read the countless reviews that catatonically drivel that this movie is all about anti-racism and anti-hate and whatnot, but come on, are we really to believe that a young man willing to fight and die for the life philosophy he is so passionate about throws it all away because he met the Comedic Black Man in prison and some hypocritical white trash "Nazis." To me the final 30 minutes or so seemed kind of hacked together- I did read that there was some significant post-production editing- and is obviously (the bare minimum I think) required to meet the approval rating "politically correct" and be viewable for our country's programmed young drones- the Nazi gives up his beliefs, or "unlearns hate," unloads on his old, now evil, mentor, and does his duty to pull his impressionable young brother out of the "DOC." While the finale is a tragic insult to an otherwise very powerful and impressive film, the movie does inspire awe in that this much was allowed to be presented.
While the abovementioned fiasco of an ending was by far the weakest aspect of the film, some of the more powerful scenes I thought were the "supermarket raid" and the scene where Derek is arrested. Overall a very well-made and gripping movie, which everyone should take a look at- whether you're too stuporous to grasp the validity and coherence of Derek's "hate" or you have a more logical understanding of Derek and what he symbolizes.
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