AMERICAN HISTORY X, 1998
A former neo-nazi skinhead tries to prevent his younger brother from going down the same wrong path that he did.
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American History X offers us a dark glimpse into a cultural minority which Iím sure many of us wish didnít exist. If your squeamish this film probably isnít for you as director Tony Kaye isnít afraid to explore the important themes and show them in all their glory. He doesnít shy away from the brutal and embraces the explicit, though it does leave the impression that parts of the film are somewhat watered down for a larger audience. Rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).
The key aspect of the film without a doubt is the two Edwards (Norton and Furlong), brothers struggling throughout with their own identities, not only as Neo Nazi Skin heads, but as young men in a somewhat unfavorable environment. Quick to explain, the film takes us inside the lives of one family in particular, and the hate which has been allowed to fester in an already broken home.
The beginning of the film leaves the viewer with a sense of Ďmoreí than meets the eye and soon enough this is revealed. Derek (Norton) soon with a bout of what can only be described as verbal diarrhea enlightens his family as to his political beliefs, coated in a variety of catalysts as to why he truly is the bad boy he has set out to become. The dinner table scene for those who havenít watched is nothing more than a spoon feeding for the audience, just in case we are too lazy or incapable to entertain our own assumptions of why he is the way he is. Letting the viewer come up with their own assumptions here would in my view have been better, and slightly more clever on behalf of the writer, though the scene works interestingly as a means of introducing us to the family dynamics. Beverly DíAngelo (as the mother) is fantastic in this scene with the few lines she is given and questions what she did wrong, though without actually providing any answers.
Norton plays the role well, despite his Ivy League roots. It is not uncommon for characterization to be set aside when a film tackles a volatile subject such as this, believing that the topic itself will cover any failures of the plot. Norton however proves his worth and handles the role remarkably. His embraced brutality in the first half of the film is believable though in the latter half of the film I found his reformed character ironically slightly less likeable. The turn around for such stark differences in character can ultimately be traced to the pivotal rape scene in the movie (coupled with his newly formed friendship with an African American inside) whereby Derek is brutalized by his Ďown kindí. Despite the obvious cause to this turn around, personally I found the transformation far too quick though it does have undeniable power.
Furlong however failed to grasp my attention in the film and I found his character irritating rather than sympathetic or empathetic. His characters personality just isnít strong enough to make me want to route for him, and by the end of the film I found myself indifferent to his fate.
By the end of the film, whilst interesting and strong in areas, I felt a little empty. Simply speaking, I wanted more. I wanted to know more about life as a Nazi, more about the group dynamics and less about the one particular family it focused on. The character of the Nazi leader Cameron Alexander (based on Tom Metzger, leader of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR) and played by Stacy Keach) could have been explored a little more, whilst the relationship between Derek and Cameron was unconvincing.
Narrative structure aside, Kaye and McKenna have crafted a very thought-provoking film, full of powerful scenes and dialogue. Kaye, in the role of the film's cinematographer, uses a number of interesting camera techniques to give the film an increasingly ominous sense of 'heightened reality', such as the judicious use of slow motion in conjunction with unconventional orchestrations. One of the best aspects of the film was shooting half in Black and White. The feel to the film felt more
It is these morbidly savage moments which eventually drives home the message, characters and plot aside. The striking violence echoes not only racism worldwide, but takes the viewer on an up close tour of what truly happens, whether the issue be race, religion, sexual preference or simply violence and it is through this method that the film shines.
Regardless of its failures this is a must see for Norton and film lovers alike. This is hands down one of Nortonís most interesting roles and he rises to the challenge.
If you havenít seen this film yet Ė go outside, bite the curb and Iíll be right out!
AMERICAN HISTORY X