American History X (1998)

Neo-Nazi Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) is sentenced to three years in prison for murder. Inside prison he starts to change his views on life and wants his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) to steer away from the path that he did.

Director: Tony Kaye

Cast: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Stacy Keach, Fairuza Bulk, Avery Brooks

MPAA Rating: R for graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, strong sexuality and nudity

Fun Fact: Tony Kaye tried to use the Alan Smithee pseudonym due to certain edits done to the film by Edward Norton.

American History X is one of those films that is important to our society as it can relate to issues that we can relate to as viewers. While this won’t be a politically driven review, it is needed to be known that the subject matter of this film will always be present no matter the era. With that being said it is also important to note that the film’s subject matter is very intense and it can leave to some uneasy moments which it succeeds in with effective film making.

I find it interesting that the director Tony Kaye really doesn’t want anything to do with this film. In my opinion it’s brilliantly directed and it’s a shame that Kaye’s opinion of it ended up like it did. Kaye did a great job getting the performances out his actors and we have some incredible performances that I will get to in a bit. That was due to Edward Norton having a different vision of the film which leads to the classic director and star feud. While these feuds can ruin films this one survives it.

Edward Norton leads the cast with an incredible and memorable performance. Norton gets into character and when it was time for the flashback scenes he looked menacing and believable as the leader of the Neo-Nazi gang. Through certain scenes we see the break down of Derek and his rise to redemption. You want him to succeed in redeeming himself but, you also don’t really feel bad for what he went through because he decided to live that life style in the first place and chose his fate. It’s a shame Norton lost out on the Academy Award as he really was that good in the film. Edward Furlong was just as great as Danny. While watching Norton and Furlong, you get the sense of great chemistry. While watching the film it really felt like they were close brother’s and those scenes are some of the very best in he film.

Some of the best parts of the film are the flashbacks. I loved the decision to go black and white with those scenes. It makes them more memorable and stand out. These flashbacks scenes can get intense so something was needed in order to make them stand out and going black and white was the way to go. On another technical note, Tony Kaye did the camera work for this film as well. We get a lot of interesting close ups and haunting visuals. It’s still sad to see how it went down with him because of of all the extra work that he put into it.

Overall American History X is not just a great film but, and interesting piece as well. There seemed to be a lot of creative differences and direction as well. The studio had a vision, Edward Norton had a vision, and Tony Kaye had a vision. With three different visions it’s going to be hard to come to an agreement of some sort. Other than that I would recommend the film due to it’s technical creative points like the black and white flashbacks and the acting of all the characters. The best acting pieces belong to Edward Norton and Edward Furlong. When those two are on the screen you get quality believable acting. The thing is even though the film is over 20 years old, it still holds the test of time.

Verdict: Hit

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