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American History X (1998)

Drama movie directed by Tony Kaye

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The consequences of hate.

  • May 13, 2001
  • by
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 brother is walking the same path he once did. The movie uses black-and-white scenes from the past in conjunction with color scenes in the current situation to establish Derek's sordid history as a vicious racist and show his path to change.

The younger brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), idolizes Derek. In fact, the local coterie of skinheads all do. Derek has a power to feed the hate of his retinue with fiery rhetoric that targets ethnic groups indiscriminately with intense indignation. The movie is truly scary when you see the skinheads bonding, brought together by an irrational hate and Derek's ability to gratify it with his fierce oratories.

Edward Norton was robbed when the Academy denied him the Oscar for Best Actor (he was nominated, though). His performance is compelling and real...frighteningly so. He effectively straddles the line between a smart kid with dumb ideas and the true racist seething with hate. I sincerely think he is one of Hollywood's most promising actors. Edward Furlong is also powerful, which is shocking for an actor of his age. Danny shares Derek's hate, but not the ability to convey it "rationally." The script is stunning, likewise the directing and editing.

The movie is violent and brutal, almost disturbingly so, but it is critical to underscore the power of the story. This is not tasteless killing. And it does not glorify racism...it exposes the consequences of racism and its absurdity. It shows how screwed-up people can rise above the pettiness of hate. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie is when Derek and Danny pull down all the Nazi crap on his bedroom wall.

This movie is intense, as well. I must have lost 20 pounds watching it, because my heart was pounding insanely hard. The ending is horrifyingly sad...I have to wonder if I've ever been more moved by a movie.

Be warned: It's brutal, gritty, and emotionally heavy. But at the same time it's a remarkably powerful story with first-rate acting and a powerful message. Don't pass this one up.

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More American History X (1998) reviews
review by . November 21, 2003
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
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Clayton Reeder ()
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Rogue capitalist in search of all that is interesting, weird, or beautiful.      Collected here are my hundreds of reviews from Amazon.com, covering mostly music that is offensive … more
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About this movie


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
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"The consequences of hate."
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