American History X
Why didn't this film win any Oscars? It's well-written, has flawless acting, great first-time directing, haunting camerawork, and is enraging, engaging, and disturbing. It confronts and frightens us about racism, yet is never distasteful. In Venice, California, a world of beaches and playgrounds, all races are at undeclared war with all others. Skinheads' race hatred is identical -- although with different catchwords and haircuts -- to that of other ethnic groups.
As punishment for writing favorably about Hitler's autobiography, "Mein Kampf," student Danny Vinyard (Furlong) must write an essay on contemporary America, discussing his elder, Nazi-worshipping brother, Derek (Norton). The film takes shape as that essay, also making use of Danny's flashbacks, which show Derek growing from a well-adjusted teenager to a hate-monger. In scary, convincing scenes, skinheads bond, fueled by drugs, beer, tattoos, heavy metal music, and led by Derek's brilliant speech. In them, we see clearly that insecure people all want to belong to something greater than they are. Sentenced to a mere 3 years for killing two black Americans who stole his car, Derek has become a monster. In his eyes and with a poisonous smirk, Norton's evil Derek and his racism are expressed in cold-blood extremes. After his released, Derek no longer hates minorities, or life in general, which his younger brother sees, and Derek must do more than just confront himself and start a new life: He must try to save Danny from the same race hatred.
Black-and-white flashbacks give a documentary air, and contrast with present-day scenes drenched in broad color. Slow-motion scenes and scenes without dialogue heighten the tension throughout, which also builds through the characters' gestures and behaviors. Kaye, taking a moral stance in the film, was unhappy when the studio took over the film. But the viewer will get it, and the studio magically managed not to flub the message or the film.
Ed Furlong, Ed Norton, Beverley D'Angelo, Stacy Keach, Avery Brooks, Ethan Suplee, Elliot
Neo-Nazis, skinheads, racism, anti-racist
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