Tuesday, April 9, 2013

American History X Review

American History X Review
Director: Tony Kaye 

Cast Headliner: Edward Norton

Original Release Date: October 30, 1998

Seen: February 2013

            American History X is the highlight of Edward Norton’s career. It is the pinnacle, nothing will surpass it. Yes he’s been in other great things, but they’re not this movie. Few other movies ever are as good as this movie. It is because of the transformative journey through this extremely unique and deep film.
 The movie alternates between two major perspectives. Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong) is foul-mouth and a rebel. He is a high schooler who worships the Nazis, is proudly racist, and is a wanna-be member of the Aryan Brotherhood. This is inspired by his older brother Derek, who becomes corrupted as a person and joins the brotherhood after his police officer father is murdered by gangsters.
            A unique trait of this film is that the time period of the setting jumps around and is jumbled. This adds to the film tremendously, as a trait will be mentioned about Derek by Danny and a flashback will show a past situation.  The past is in depressing stark black and white, and present events are in color.   Norton’s Derek is a tremendously nuanced character. He was the once good but gullible youth. The tragedies of his life make him ferocious, racist, and evil.   American History X can be at times very graphic and violent, a warning about that. It is handled with tact however, and the horrible acts he does to people and the murders he commits are evidence to show how deep into the abyss Derek sunk as a person.
The film is a kind of introspection by Danny about his older brother. Events happen in the present, as Derek is released from prison. Problems happen because Derek is a changed man, no longer racist and hateful but redeemed and wanting to help the world.
There is a long flashback segment set during Derek’s time in prison after his murder of several black men who were in his neighborhood.  He goes to hell on Earth that is a California prison.  He thinks he can join the darkness, but he finds that when one works on the darkside everyone is out to stab each other.
The film is especially bleak and depressing while in that prison. Derek faces a shocking betrayal , and also learns to respect a non-white person for the first time perhaps because of that. In the abyss, he found that there was no point to his darkness anymore. He redeems himself; he doesn’t not want to be what has harmed him.  Norton’s best moments ever are at this transition. He goes from being charismatic in a cult leader way to being charismatic in a heroic way.
            The supporting cast is good, every actor and actress in this movie do a fantastic job.  The characters all have depth and defining characteristics showing the flaws and positives of the human race.  Seth is the bumbling racist redneck friend; Stacey is the dark racist girlfriend, Mrs.Vinyard a broken but strong woman who is the boy’s mother, Davina their sister who won’t back down from the harsh people around her. Also of note is Dr.Sweeney who sets the plot into motion by making Danny think about his life, he also is influential in causing Derek to redeem himself. You really care about these characters or if they are wicked you are fascinated by them.
The acting is impeccable. The images are shocking at times. The messages about human morality and redemption will stay with me forever. It can be overwhelmingly intense and depressing at times, but I can honestly say that American History X is one of my favorite movies of all time after watching it.  9.5 out of 10

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