on March 27, 2002
Written by David McKenna and somewhat controversially directed by Tony Kaye, this movie should disturb you with its frightening vision and at the same time entrance you with the wonderful performances. Ed Norton received a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar Nomination this year for the lead role of Derek. The supporting cast includes Edward Furlong, Stacey Keach, and Avery Brooks. They carry their weight as the story unfolds.
The story is primarily told through the eyes of Derek's younger brother Danny, played by Edward Furlong. At the beginning of the story Danny is in trouble yet again for writing a paper on that most misunderstood figure, Adolph Hitler. Danny is an up and coming member of the Skin-Head gang located in that area of California. Avery Brooks, appearing as Danny's principal, doesn't want to give up on the promises he sees in Danny. Instead of throwing him out, he assigns another paper to be written. This is to be on Danny's older brother, Derek, who was just released from prison that morning. Derek was the head of the Skin-Head gang that Danny is currently running with. The rest of the movie flashes back and forth from the past to the present. Through Danny's paper we see how Derek, a brilliant student, is turned into a bitter teen-ager that believes only through "white-power" will he get anywhere in life. We also see the tragic night that causes Derek to be justly imprisoned. In the present phase of the movie we encounter a Derek who has grown intellectually while in prison and will now do anything to get his brother out of the trap he allowed himself to be drawn into.
Ed Norton is wonderful in this role. Those who have seen him in previous roles remember him to be a good actor but built on a rather slight frame. Here he has bulked himself up to be the "Aryan Superman" his character portrays. During the time frame of the movie he carries us convincingly on the journey from embitter teenager to enlightened young adult.
Strong warning though. This movie well deserves it's R rating. The subject matter alone is disturbing enough. The story is also visually graphic with scenes of violence and rape. If you are prepared for something like this I highly recommend this movie. The story is extremely powerful and the performances by all are moving. I strongly recommend this one!
on April 27, 2001
It's difficult to gauge my feelings towards this film. It is incredibly powerful, shocking and moving, lasting long in your mind after the end credits have faded to black. The performances are particularly engaging, both Ed Norton and Edward Furlong giving career bests, and Stacy Keach, Elliot "Father Gellar" Gould, and Beverly "Mother Griswald" D'Angelo thankfully kept to an absolute minimum. The music, coupled with the bleak cinematography that cuts from black and white to slow motion to grainy textures and bleached colours, makes this a surprisingly emotional film, and the story line grips you throughout. What troubles me, however, is the subject matter, twinned with the charisma given off by Norton's fascist mastermind.
The film is obviously sending out the message that it is wrong to be racist, and yet, just as 'Falling Down' brought cheers of support from the white middle-classes, 'American History X' may gain the same support. The appeal of Norton's character whilst he is in his racist phase is magnetic, to say the least, as the camera adulates him in glorious monochrome and voyeuristic slow motion, and his sociological (and fascist) dialogue is given a solitary forum from which to speak. So, you wait for the abuttal, the turnaround, the moment in which he realises his error, the adulation of an anti-racist, and the same sociological arguments that reverse what has been said before...and yet they never come. Indeed, it seems to make the point that racism is bad because it tears up your white middle-class family, and not because it is wrong. And so, though the ending is powerful and shocking from an emotional drama point-of-view, from a political viewpoint it is dangerous, because it does not reverse the seductive allure of racism that fills up the first half of the movie. Essentially, therefore, the film is full of rhetoric that argues racism has a valid and acceptable root, and is rather slim on evidence that racism is bad.
I gave 'American History X' four stars because of its power: just a look from the characters can rend your heart. When Norton is in the shower having been released from prison, he thinks back to his innocent childhood, and upon leaving the cubicle, sees himself in the mirror, complete with his Nazi tattoos, and the expression that crosses his face, added to the slow-motion footage and music, is incredibly moving. Likewise, the manic gleam in his eyes having killed the two men being replaced by despair upon realising he is going to be separated from his family strikes the heart. And yet I cannot fully commit to this movie because its surface anti-racist sentiment seems to hide an undercurrent of pro-fascist ideologies and aesthetics, in that never does the camera dwell upon a coloured person the way it does the white cast members. It is, however, a must-see movie, if only for the cinematic masterpiece that comprises the final scenes. Watching it as a drama, it is a great movie. Watching it as something else is deeply unsettling.
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.
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.
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.
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....
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.
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.
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.
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".