American History X (1998)

american history xIMDb

Sally
Going out of order here. You’ll be seeing a few reviews like this pop up in the next couple weeks. Ben recently had a birthday, and received some DVDs that we’ve already passed alphabetically. Rather than wait until Z and then looping back around, it makes more sense to just watch them now. (Otherwise we’d likely forget.)

There’s no doubt that American History X is well acted. Edward Norton is excellent as a neo-Nazi who is jailed for murdering two black men, only to befriend one in prison and reform his racist ways. This is probably Norton’s best role. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to completely become a character that is so hateful. Norton is completely convincing, delivering some powerful albeit cringeworthy dialogue. Edward Furlong plays Norton’s younger brother, who gets recruited into neo-Nazism while his brother is in prison. He plays the troubled teen well enough, but his character isn’t given much to do. He is the narrator, but it’s Norton’s story he is telling. This is sort of the point, which is stated in the movie. However, I feel the ending would have been more emotional for me if I knew a bit more of Furlong’s story.

Ah yes, the ending. While I thought this film was well written and tackles some issues well, the ending left much to be desired. This is meant to be an indictment of racism– both casual and explicit– but I feel like this could have been made a tad clearer. Not that I think viewers are too dumb to figure this out, but because it’s too easy for racists to completely miss the point. At times it seems like Norton’s racism is justified, especially at the end. And if I, a person who actually gets the point of the movie, can interpret it that way, sure as shit some skinhead or Duck Dynasty wannabe will see it that way too.

I mean, when I did a Google image search for “American History X” the second category presented is “curb stomp.” Almost every other photo in the top 20 is a shirtless Norton sporting a swastika tattoo, many of which are desktop wallpaper quality. It just feels too much like the message is being lost here.

Rating: B+


Ben
Well this is different from what you’ve been used to on this blog. This is a film I recently received as a gift, not something we forgot to do during the As. This is an intense film about a very difficult topic. The film is not easy to watch, but the fantastic performance by Edward Norton makes it unmissable. You can’t take your eyes off what must’ve been a very difficult role to do.

Norton plays Derek Vinyard. A former neo-Nazi who is determined to prevent his little brother Danny (Edward Furlong) from going down the same path of self destruction he’s been down. Derek has recently been released from jail for murdering two black men who were trying to steal his car. Derek had upset them earlier in the day during a basketball game, and they were looking for revenge. After he is arrested, Derek is sentenced to three years in prison. While he is there, his brother becomes more involved with the same Nazi group of racists that corrupted him. While in prison Derek has learnt the error of his ways and wants to help his little brother also see the light.

This is a powerful film. The subject matter makes it really hard to watch, but you can’t help but be impressed by Norton’s performance. He is totally believe able in both his roles. You see him as the recently released prisoner trying to help his family and atone for his past sins, but you also see him as the terrifying racist in several flashback scenes throughout the film. Norton shines in both roles. This is one of his best performances he’s ever done. Not to be outdone, Edward Furlong shares the screen well with Norton. It is a shame Furlong’s life has been derailed by several episodes of criminal activities. I’d have loved to see what this kid could’ve done, if he didn’t have his life derailed by several personal problems.

While this film is difficult to watch, you have to admire Norton’s performance. He is terrifying but also somewhat sympathetic in his role as the racist neo-Nazi. I really liked the direction too. It’s really cool how all the flashback scenes are in black and white. It is almost a way of telling the audience that Norton is not seeing clearly during this time. It’s not until he has his eyes opened in prison that he begins to see the world in colour again.

As confronting as this film is to watch, I recommend it. It is a really well made film about a very difficult subject.

Rating: A-

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One thought on “American History X (1998)

  1. It’s all also a vivid device to highlight the way he saw the world… Separate and bleak… From memory the sharpness between the tone’s blurs as he gets closer to his present, but may be just imagined memory than actual memory of the film. One of my favourite films telling a very difficult story…
    Loved the review…

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