Watched Aug 16, 2012
Sam Powell’s review:
American History X may focus on two brothers caught up in Neo-Nazism, but it exhibits far more than the contemporary white supremacist movement. David McKenna’s captivating script provides an important political commentary on contemporary civil rights and equality throughout the rich multicultural society within the United States.
The construction of the film is brilliant and despite its non-linear narrative the film is able to maintain a steady pace. Its presentation of the characters and their backgrounds flows seamlessly into the story; through flashbacks, indicated to us by their black & white colouring, and Danny’s narration.
Though often gruesome to watch, director Tony Kaye’s graphic telling of the story on screen holds no bounds. Violence is rife throughout the narrative, as would be expected considering the group it portrays and their ideologies. At the centre of the film’s more turbulent scenes is Edward Norton’s Derek. In the scene that sends Derek to prison, he comes out guns blazing on a trio of black males that are attempting to rob his truck. After killing one, injuring another and failing to stop the third escaping, he returns to finish the job. The sickening attack that follows shows the angered Neo-Nazi curb-stomping the helpless man in unflinching, explicit detail.
American History X bares many similarities with Sundance 2001’s Grand Jury Prize winner The Believer. Both share a narrative following a young and intelligent Neo Nazi that oozes confidence in the hatred of the races deemed unacceptable by the party’s politics. However The Believer, starring a young Ryan Gosling, features little redemption for the character’s actions unlike Derek. Instead, and typically of a Hollywood movie, American History X produces many more redeeming features for its star – this however is not a criticism. Thanks to the screening of events in non-chronological order, the film’s underlying message is portrayed more maturely than pure shock of the vulgarity.
Despite issues in the editing suite that eventually left Tony Kaye wishing to remove his credit from the film he makes excellent work of David McKenna’s script. Though the cast is terrific, Norton’s show stealing performance is more than worthy of its acclaim it’s garnered over the years. This incredibly provocative social and political commentary of America is an absolute gem of cinema.