American History X
- Tony Kaye
- Reviewed by
- a.k.a. Coffee
- Review date
- Tuesday, May 15, 2001
Norton though – being an actor’s actor – was not satisfied with merely transforming his personality but also adjusted his appearance. And although this is a common thing for an actor to do, his transformation into the blunt, brutal and muscle-packed skinhead Derek Vinyard in American History X was so thorough that I actually wondered if this was Edward Norton that I was watching.
American History X tells the story of highschool student Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong). Danny looks up to his elder brother Derek (Edward Norton) who is a popular neo-nazi leader in the Venice Beach neighborhood. When Derek brutally kills two black gang-members that attempt to steal his car and is arrested, his younger brother’s admiration turns into zealous worship. Danny more and more identifies with the racist preaching of Derek’s mentor Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach) and is on the verge of repeating his brother’s wrongs when Derek is released from prison. And while Danny is filled with hatred and prejudice towards everyone who’s “different” blaming them for the situation of his family, Derek has realized the pointlessness of his former ideology. In an attempt to save his family and himself Derek breaks up with his neo-nazi buddies and faces his violent past.
This movie has the fascinating quality that you can find dozens of details and situations where its intention and theme are presented in a flawlessly accurate way. While other pictures dealing with such a difficult subject fail because they attempt to preach, American History X simply tells a personal story and leaves it to the viewer to make their own judgement. The fact that the film shows the world through the eyes of Danny Vinyard and that the viewer witnesses the development in his interpretation of the world surrounding him emphasizes this very personal approach to the subject. One of the most convincing scenes is placed at the very beginning of American History X when Danny watches Derek shooting down two black gangers. In Danny’s perception, Derek is not a brutal killer but a hero – he butchers his enemies like a mythical Nordic war-god and only smiles triumphantly when the police arrests him. Later the perspective shifts and we experience Derek’s time in jail. The deconstruction of the white supremacist is made perfectly clear when we witness how the young skin-head is brutally raped by his fellow (white) inmates. Both Furlong and Norton perfectly adapt to their characters and are backed by an excellent supporting cast, most notably Fairuza Balk, Avery Brooks and Stacy Keach. The cinematography has a very sober quality and makes some scenes appear as though they were taken from a documentary. American History X delivers a strong message – that prejudice and hatred against other human beings lead to violence and that violence eventually turns onto the person who initiated it. It also shows that following a primitive ideology is easy as long as you hate the whole world and refuse to think for yourself.
The ending of the movie has triggered much debate and I think that is a good thing - even after Derek has dissociated himself from his racist crimes the spiral of violence continues.
A brilliant and daring picture that will make you think.
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