Title: American History X
Director: Tony Kaye
Stars: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Stacy Keach and Avery Brooks
The film follows a young man named Derek Vinyard (Norton), whose father is murdered, which leads him to resent and hate black people and other races. Despite being highly intelligent, he is seduced by the charismatic hate preacher Cameron Alexander (Keach), who brings him further into the world of white supremacy. After committing th brutal murder of a black gang member, he is sent to prison for three years. While inside however, he finds himself working in the laundry with a black inmate. After a while he discovers that he enjoys his company and he ultimately starts to reject his former beliefs and way of life. He is helped in part by his former principal Bob Sweeney (Brooks). Upon getting out he is bent on turning his life around and making reparations for his past sins. He must also stop his younger brother Danny (Furlong) from taking the same path he did, which proves to be a very stern test.
Edward Norton earned his second Oscar nomination in three years and his first for Lead Actor, for his riveting performance as the leader of the white supremacists. Shaving his head, growing a goatee and packing on some muscle, he manages to pull off the hard-man image that was required for the role. Edward Furlong gives a fantastic performance as his younger brother. Seven years after his breakthrough role in Terminator- Judgment Day he gave the second notable performance of his career. Unfortunately for him and for us, he never came close to making another film of such quality again, due to a variety of personal issues. The supporting cast is wonderful, featuring Stacy Keach, Avery Brooks, Fairuza Balk, Beverly D’Angelo and Elliott Gould. Keach and Brooks in particular are commendable.
American History X is a very difficult film to watch. When the tag-line is ‘Violence as a way of life’ you know the subject matter will be grim. It is also hard to watch, as it is incredibly violent, mostly because of the infamous ‘mouth on the kerb’ scene that leads to Derek’s imprisonment. You might want to look away for that part if you are squeamish.
If you can look past the violence and accept that the film will be harsh and unforgiving, you will be ultimately rewarded for your perseverance. Not an easy film to watch, but a great one.