Drama (US); 1998;
Rated R; 118 Minutes
Edward Norton: Derek Vinyard
Edward Furlong: Danny Vinyard
Fairuza Balk: Stacey
Beverly DíAngelo: Doris Vinyard
Avery Brooks: Bob Sweeney
Produced by Bill
Carraro, David McKenna, John Morrisey, Kearie Peak, Steve
Tisch and Lawrence Turman; Directed by Tony Kaye;
Screenwritten by David McKenna
by DAVID KEYES
History X may seem like an average melodrama at first
glance, but deep inside, itís a brutal and disturbing movie
that discusses and demonstrates racism, prejudice, and human
blindness. You expect to see a movie simply discussing the
average skinhead life, but what you get is something totally
beyond what youíd expect to see at the cinema. It brings
a neo-naziís life completely to the screen.
this is difficult for me as a critic. Why? Well, think about
this observation: how do you praise a movie when itís offensive
and so brutally prejudice? Then again, how can you hate
it when it paints such a realistic picture of these things,
in a way, I gather, completely based on fact?
think you can see it my way. A movie like American History
X is either likely to be blown down by the harshness
of critics or praised ultimately for its intense and disturbing
themes. In the end, for my sake, I appreciated the movie
for what it did. It convinced me and attacked me with forces
I didnít know even existed in the movies. Like Saving
Private Ryan, it displays raw power in the human heart
and human eyes, all of which work perfectly. Well, sort
thereís a flaw in the movie, itís the overall explanation.
But weíll get to that later. First, something needs to be
said about its message. Itís about a racist named Derek
Vinyard, who, as flashbacks show us, became a skinhead after
a group of African-Americans shot down his father on the
street while he was trying to put out the fires in a burning
building. Heís played by Edward Norton, in a role that deserves
Oscar consideration beyond comprehension. He is described
in early scenes of flashback as one of the most brutal of
his kind; tough, ragged, brave, and, of course, absolutely
the movie actually begins with Derek exiting a jail term,
for a crime that I wouldnít dare mention here. Strangely,
however, he emerges from the prison sentence a new, refreshed
human being, free of his racist beliefs and his urges to
but wouldnít the movie be dull if it simply started like
that and had nothing more than flashbacks of his past? The
present focuses mainly on Derekís younger brother, Danny,
who himself idolizes his older brother to the point that,
yes, he has skinhead tendencies as well.
movie bounces back and forth between these two situations;
displayed in stunning black and white shots are the flashbacks
and memories of Derekís life as a Neo-nazi. The present
takes places purely in color, and directs attention to the
relationships of the two brothers who, at this point, are
completely opposite of what they use to be.
technique of these color and black and white shots seems
reminiscent of Spielbergís from Schindlerís List,
though the movie doesnít mix both of them in the same camera
shots. Itís an approach that is so effective that it seems
hard to believe that most movie directors havenít made their
movies with the same technique.
at another glance, it seems hard to believe that a movie
like this would have a weakness. But it does, and itís one
that irritated me for days. Sure, this is a movie based
on the recovery of a skinhead and the upbringing of a new
one, but how did Derek, the one who changed his ways, all
of a sudden decide to give up his racial tendencies? I gather
his change of heart took place in jail when some African-Americans
saved his life, but is that really reason enough for such
a brutal neo-nazi to change his ways?
dunno. The movie never gets into explanation of Derekís
mending, nor does it get into much explanation of what happened
during his jail sentence. If this could have been something
corrected during production, American History X would
have been the triumph of the year. It could have been the
best film I ever laid eyes on.
still, itís worthwhile, powerful experience. Of course,
it would be easy to give away several details of a movie
like this. It would be so funny if I mentioned every quirk
and every tidbit for you, but why would I? Is that the purpose
of a film review? To spoil everything for a movie before
you actually see it?
think not. Some critics actually do it. Sometimes I do it.
But I donít, at least, for movies as powerful as this.
you seem to believe that I get kicks out of spoiling these
things, then you havenít been paying attention very long.
1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.