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American History X

Released: 1998

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 1 hr 58 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Tony Kaye

Starring: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo, Jennifer Lien, Ethan Suplee, Fairuza Balk, Avery Brooks, Elliott Gould, Stacy Keach, William Russ

An ex-con tries to shield his younger brother from the influence of Neo-Nazis.

An unflinching portrait of an America filled with uncontrollable racial hatred.

Review by: SteveRhodes

Added: 8 years ago

AMERICAN HISTORY X, director Tony Kaye's vitriolic movie, paints an unflinching portrait of an America filled with uncontrollable racial hatred. Focusing on two young men within a Nazi skinhead group of young whites, the didactic story suggests a world of warring gangs, segregated by race, whose raison d'etre is to malign and kill all the other races.

Starring Edward Norton as Derek Vinyard, the proudly racist leader, the film partially overcomes David McKenna's ridiculously vituperative script by the force of Norton's performance. The movie is such balderdash that, were it not for the seriousness of the subject matter, one might find it laughable.

Norton, a chameleon of an actor, sheds the mousy look of his roles in EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU and THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT for a buff body, heavy on the tattoos. Using the explosiveness he showed in his Oscar nominated performance in PRIMAL FEAR, he brings a chilling credibility to the role of a hate monger and killer. In short, he is the reason, and the only reason, to see the movie. Without him, the ludicrous picture would be close to unbearable.

The story starts with 3 African-Americans breaking into Derek's car. His younger brother and future skinhead, Danny (Edward Furlong) sees them and interrupts his brother during sex to tell him. Derek grabs an automatic weapon and starts killing people. When one of them refuses to die from the bullet wounds, Derek crushes his skull on the curb.

Derek goes to prison, and, when he gets out, he spends his time trying to extricate his younger brother from the white supremacist movement. The movie jumps backward and forward in time with all periods filled with long diatribes of racial epithets.

The supporting cast covers all the stereotypes. Elliott Gould is a wimpy Jew who'd liked to date Derek's mom were he not scared of Derek. Beverly D'Angelo is Derek's sickly mom, who coughs between every drag of the cigarettes she chain smokes. Ethan Suplee plays Derek's skinhead buddy, a 400-pound behemoth who couldn't speak without the use of profanities. Stacy Keach is a creepy old member of the skinhead set who plays puppeteer to his Nazi minions. And the teacher who befriends the Vinyard boys is an African-American high school teacher with 2 -- count 'em -- 2 Ph.Ds.

The manipulative film, when it isn't spewing racial slurs, uses images to toy with our emotions. After Derek complains about how "those people" are destroying his neighborhood, the camera cuts to an innocent little, 3-year-old black girl, smiling warmly into the camera.

Anne Dudley's score for the film is impressive, but misplaced. Full of long violin notes and dramatic Kettledrums, it strongly punctuates a film that needs some subtly.

Among the biggest deficiencies in the story is the lack of proper motivation for Derek's beliefs and actions. One time it is suggested that it has something to do with his father's murder. Later the movie implies that his attitude stems from a two-minute conversation that he had at dinner with his dad. Derek has been reading and liking "Native Son," in his high school class, but his dad warned him against the book and the double-Ph.D. teacher who assigned it. We are asked to believe that, after this brief conversation, his life was forever changed.

AMERICAN HISTORY X runs 1:57. It is rated R for graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive profanity, sex and nudity. It should be considered NC-17 and would be acceptable only for the maturest teenagers.