American History X (1998)

reviewed by
Joy Wyse

Review:                AMERICAN HISTORY X
Starring:        Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Avery Brooks, Beverly D'Angelo,        
                Stacy Keach, Elliott Gould, Jennifer Lien, Ethan Suplee
Directed by:        Tony Kaye
Review by:        Joy Wyse

American History X is not an easy film to watch. Looking back on it I remember the song from `South Pacific' whose lyrics are: `You've got to be taught to be afraid, of people whose eyes are oddly made, of people whose skin is a different shade. You've got to be carefully taught.' That is the basic story behind American History X. What makes a young man, Derek Vinyard [Edward Norton] become a skinhead? How did he learn to hate? In part, he learns from Cameron Alexander [Stacy Keach] who enlists Derek to entice other disgruntled white teens to join his army of hatemongers.

But there's more to the story than that. Although the action supposedly takes place in one twenty-four hour period, the flashbacks take it back through previous years. Danny Vinyard [Edward Furlong] has been called into the office of Mr. Sweeney [Avery Brooks] for writing an essay about the civil rights of Adolf Hitler. It is feared that Danny, in emulating his older brother, Derek, is headed down the same path. Derek is being released from prison that day. He has served a three-year sentence for manslaughter for killing two black teens. The killing scenes are especially graphic. Mr. Sweeney gives Danny the homework assignment of writing about Derek and the course of his life to replace the unacceptable essay.

Derek is not a totally unlikable person. He's just confused by what he's been taught in his short life. When he is released from prison, he has changed. His friends, such as Seth [Ethan Suplee] cannot understand this change. During Derek's imprisonment Seth and most of his other friends have banned together under the leadership of Cameron Alexander. They are not a likeable group. It's sad to realize that there are groups like this all over America today.

There are too many subplots to mention and not all of them are satisfactory. We are dealing with a dysfunctional family who is really very close. They don't seem to realize just how dysfunctional they really are.

I really enjoyed this movie, but I doubt that it will make any impact on the movie audiences. In many ways I fear that it could incite haters to hate even more. I'm glad that I saw it, but it is disturbing. I don't want to believe that this can happen. I definitely don't want to see it again, not even on free TV. The best thing about it is the acting. Everyone in it is totally believable, and the two Edwards are destined to be respected actors, which is more important than being `stars'. I give it a C.

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