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American History X (1998)

Drama movie directed by Tony Kaye

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Courage to Change

  • Nov 21, 2003
Rating:
+5
On the recommendations of several friends combined with Edward Norton being in the lead role for "American History X", I settled in for what I suspected would be a disturbing if quality movie for the evening. It was -- both quality and disturbing. I have never seen Norton anything but excellent in any role, my expectations of him were high, and he fully met and surpassed those expectations. Indeed, this is one of his best, and I can understand why he was nominated for an Oscar based on his performance in AHX.

"American History X" portrays a young man turned into a neo-Nazi when his father, a man he unquestioningly idolizes as so many young sons do their fathers, is murdered. His father, a racist police officer, plants a seed of racism in his son's mind shortly before his death, and with the bloody fertilization of a brutal murder, the seed produces a young man filled with hatred and rage, seeking to spill blame on those different than himself. What makes Norton's character of Derek Vinyard so horrifying and plausible is his intelligence. This is not a person who swallows a prejudice whole. He turns it into a philosophy of life, and it is only when his rage flames out of control that we can see how dangerous his views are, how far reaching the hatred. Culminating in two murders that chill to the bone, Derek Vinyard is imprisoned. Outside of those prison walls, his younger brother, played also with exceptional skill by Edward Furlong, yet another boy who idolizes his older sibling, continues on the path Derek has blazed. Inside the prison walls, Derek Vinyard undergoes a harsh lesson of humility coupled with the kindness of an expected enemy that he finally realizes has saved him. Few things teach better than pain. Most lessons in life are learned best when we hit bottom. Derek Vinyard hits bottom hard, but it is the kindness of those he had seen as enemies that provides now the balm of human compassion that helps him complete his inner growth. He emerges from prison a changed man. Life is not so neat, however, and the seeds of hatred he has sown in prior years must yet travel their full course.

To change a man's heart is a difficult feat. To transform hatred and rage into wisdom and compassion happens rarely, too rarely. But Norton makes this transformation of a man's heart ring true. The movie stands as a powerful statement of the possibilities of changing evil into good, of waking a spirit seemingly lost to hatred to the grace of love in what becomes a true hero: the man who was once fallen, who grows through his pain, and becomes a man able to stand up for what takes true courage - doing the right thing.

The only flat performance in AHX is by Stacy Keach, who plays the guru of the Nazi movement. He is unable to pop out of his one dimensional character. But all other performances in this movie, notably also Beverly D'Angelo's potrayal of Derek's mother, are first class. However uncomfortable some of the graphic scenes in this movie, it is a must see.

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More American History X (1998) reviews
review by . May 13, 2001
I rarely buy movies. But I did buy American History X.This is the incredibly powerful story of two brothers who fall into the trap of racism and hate. It is also the story of these brothers trying to free themselves from racism and hate. After spending some time in prison for murdering two blacks who try and steal his car (a dispute starting with a basketball game), former neo-nazi Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) leaves his incarceration a changed man. To his dismay, however, he find that his younger …
About the reviewer
Zinta Aistars ()
Ranked #135
I am a bilingual writer and editor; founder and editor-in-chief of the literary ezine, The Smoking Poet. Learn more about me on my Web site--I welcome visitors!
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Edward Norton was nominated for a 1998 Best Actor Oscar for his role as Derek Vinyard, a thoughtful kid turned neo-Nazi after his father is slain. Edward Furlong plays his younger brother, Danny, determined to follow in his brother's footsteps. The easy routes the film seems prepared to take never materialize. It continually makes Derek's transformation both in and out of his racist beliefs believable and persuasive. Stacy Keach is given the head vampire role of the local skinhead chapter, Cameron, and he's the closest this film comes to an overt overstatement. Norton, however, is fantastic, embodying a person who roller-coasters through hatred like he can't wait to ride again. His diatribes are not unlike what can be heard on any given conservative radio station on any given day, but he doesn't spew them as cant or screed. Only when his violent emotions take charge, negating any sense or stand, is the underlying fallacy and nature of his beliefs made plain. This film was undermined by the film's own director, Tony Kaye, who made such a braying ass of himself and his work that it distorted the public's view of what is an interesting social and psychological lesson in the war between ideas and ideologues, reason and racism.--Keith Simanton
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Director: Tony Kaye
Screen Writer: David McKenna
Runtime: 119 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Video
First to Review

"The consequences of hate."
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