American History X

Director: Tony Kaye
Stars: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo
Runtime: 119m

Edward Norton once again proves his chameleon-powers as neo-Nazi patron Derek Vinyard, followed by his brother Danny, an immoral copy of himself before he went to prison and swapped radical ideals for realistic, non-xenophobic ideals. The brother is played by Edward Furlong with a sharp sentiment of pervasive longing in every gaze and action. The films bleak tone is handled a little unevenly by Director Tony Kaye, and sometimes feels like a modern Clockwork Orange in how it emphasizes everything, but overall American History X is a poignant look at adolescent-subjection and racism in America.

The film begins with Danny rushing into Derek’s room as he is hidden by the draped covers of his naked girlfriend. Danny frantically tells him that his car is being broken into and without a moment of inner-conflict or fear, Derek rips a handgun from a drawer, runs out in his shorts and shoots down the black-kids around his car. This is the verisimilitude of the movie, the introduction to Danny’s world. From here forth, it is not the story of Derek’s path to destruction, but Danny’s reconstruction of that path, and his inevitable conclusion in its findings. Danny excels in his English class, though he writes about Mein Kampf and receives much throwback by the school-leaders, but the English teacher, a calm-voiced black man played by Avery Brooks, persuades Danny to not write about Mein Kampf, but about why his brother Derek is in prison.

The film switches periodically to monochrome, during scenes where Derek ravages the town, stealing from an Asian-clerked grocery store and assembling a team of players to go against young blacks for the right to the court, exclusively. Derek is depicted in a slightly omnipresent light, similar to Raging Bull’s Jack LaMotta, but I can’t say it is to a fault; when a movie looks at something in a concentrated form, like how Scorsese looks exclusively at mobsters in ‘GoodFellas’, we see things through a different light; so the point, essentially, is whether or not if you were in Danny’s footsteps could you dis-attach yourself and be able to recognize the right from the wrong.  A sort of whistle-blowing intolerance makes the Derek appealing, but also fittingly glorifies him in the mind of Danny, since everything is being told by him and what he writes in his essay. Even if your brother kills and robs, you still look up to them, though with Derek, if you don’t agree with him, you don’t love him. It’s a one-way route.

Although uneven in parts, and not hitting the problem straight-on, American History X still remains an effective anti-racist film; provocative, insightful, and very resonant.

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