American History X (1998)

R   |    |  Drama


American History X (1998) Poster

A former neo-nazi skinhead tries to prevent his younger brother from going down the same wrong path that he did.

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8.5/10
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  • Fairuza Balk and Edward Norton in American History X (1998)
  • Edward Norton in American History X (1998)
  • Edward Furlong and Edward Norton in American History X (1998)
  • Fairuza Balk and Edward Furlong in American History X (1998)
  • Edward Furlong in American History X (1998)

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2 September 2005 | MovieAddict2016
8
| Not a perfect film, but very good - Norton's performance is the highlight
"American History X" is a bold and disturbing movie about family, racism and our own self-perceptions. Its main character is Derek (Edward Norton), a neo-Nazi skinhead who is released from jail to find his younger brother (Edward Furlong) descending down the same corrupt path as he once walked.

In jail Derek learns a few things about life, and racism, or more appropriately, himself, and after becoming a free man again takes it upon himself to set his brother on the straight and narrow path.

"American History X" is not a pleasant motion picture. It begins in flashback, as Derek murders two black kids trying to break into his car. His brother, who idolizes Derek and later mimics his lifestyle, witnesses this event. It's a good message about negative influences, along with everything else.

Much has been made of the film's controversy and lawsuits. Director Tony Kaye disowned the film after Norton (allegedly) re-edited footage to give himself more screen time. Kaye tried to have his name changed on the film credits, but by this time he had already taken out a complaint in several magazines, which are against the rules of the Director's Guild. He was therefore denied the opportunity to credit the work as "directed by Humpty Dumpty." Then, musical band Anti-Hero complained to New Line Cinema (the film's international distributor) because one of the Nazi characters featured a tattoo of their band. They later wrote a song, called "NLC," bashing the company.

Despite the hard-edged controversy it's still a very good film, above all else extremely well-acted and featuring a gripping storyline – even if the direction isn't always up to par.

Edward Norton is simply superb in his role, showing extremely raw talent a mere two years after his film debut (in the Richard Gere thriller "A Primal Fear"). Norton careens between the role of a raging, vicious supremacist and a kindler, gentler version of the same character; a metamorphosis so convincing it's hard to believe it's just one actor.

The rest of the cast is good as well – Furlong gives the best performance of his career and Beverly D'Angelo and Stacy Keach have strong supporting roles. (D'Angelo in particular, who portrays a sleazy alcoholic – a stretch compared to her usual Normal Mom roles in the "Vacation" movies.) "American History X" isn't exactly rewarding of all the praise it has been lavished since its release (mainly from viewers rather than critics, who were less kind) – it isn't the best movie of its kind or even a flawless one. The black-and-white photography isn't on the same level, visually, as "Raging Bull" or "Schindler's List." The preaching is a bit heavy-handed at times.

But it still manages to convey an important lesson and boasts great acting complimented by an (overall) impressive, gut-wrenching screenplay. A must-see for all who can stomach its content.

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