American History X (DVD)
Edward Norton delivers a searing performance as a former neo-Nazi skinhead whose life was almost destroyed by his own hatred--and who now struggles to prevent his younger brother from following in his footsteps. Seeking retribution for his father's murder and burning with rage, Derek Vinyard (Norton) becomes the charismatic leader of a local White Power movement. Despite his intelligence, Derek's incendiary actions culminate in a brutal murder and three years in prison. Now on parole, Derek returns home to find his brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), being seduced by the same anger, bigotry and violence that almost destroyed his life.
Perhaps the highest compliment you can pay to Edward Norton is that his Oscar-nominated performance in American History X
nearly convinces you that there is a shred of logic in the tenets of white supremacy. If that statement doesn't horrify you, it should; Norton is so fully immersed in his role as a neo-Nazi skinhead that his character's eloquent defense of racism is disturbingly persuasive--at least on the surface. Looking lean and mean with a swastika tattoo and a mind full of hate, Derek Vinyard (Norton) has inherited racism from his father, and that learning has been intensified through his service to Cameron (Stacy Keach), a grown-up thug playing tyrant and teacher to a growing band of disenfranchised teens from Venice Beach, California, all hungry for an ideology that fuels their brooding alienation.
The film's basic message--that hate is learned and can be unlearned--is expressed through Derek's kid brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), whose sibling hero-worship increases after Derek is imprisoned (or, in Danny's mind, martyred) for the killing of two black men. Lacking Derek's gift of rebel rhetoric, Danny is easily swayed into the violent, hateful lifestyle that Derek disowns during his thoughtful time in prison. Once released, Derek struggles to save his brother from a violent fate, and American History X partially suffers from a mix of intense emotions, awkward sentiment, and predictably inevitable plotting. And yet British director Tony Kaye (who would later protest against Norton's creative intervention during post-production) manages to juggle these qualities--and a compelling clash of visual styles--to considerable effect. No matter how strained their collaboration may have been, both Kaye and Norton can be proud to have created a film that addresses the issue of racism with dramatically forceful impact. --Jeff Shannon