American History X (1998)
A disturbing but crucial look at the destructive nature of racism, American History X is, in a sentence, a brutally honest, hard-hitting, very unsettling, violent & absolutely devastating cinema. An excellent exemplification of provocative filmmaking, the impact this film makes is impossible to forget and is escalated to even greater heights by its potent combination of relentless intensity and fiery performances from Edward Norton & Edward Furlong.
American History X tells the story of Derek Vinyard, a former neo-nazi skinhead, who is paroled from prison after serving three years for killing two thugs who tried to steal his truck. Coming out a reformed man, Derek wants to start a fresh life with his family only to find out that his actions in the past have greatly influenced his brother, Danny, who is now walking in Derek’s very own footsteps and thus tries to stop him. Through flashbacks we also learn about Derek’s journey from a suburban white kid to the highly admired & respected leader of an aggressive white supremacist gang, and also the events that ended up transforming his racist attitude & entire persona during his prison time.
The biggest strength of this film lies in its all-round performances, especially from the leads. Edward Norton stars as Derek Vinyard and delivers a blistering, truly memorable performance, easily one of his career best, and doesn’t just play but becomes the vengeance-seeking skinhead on-screen. Edward Furlong plays Derek’s brother, Danny Vinyard, with surprisingly great maturity, putting up an equally rousing performance, if not better, both on-screen and was even better as the narrator of the story. The other supporting performances are also very good with standout contribution coming from Avery Brooks as Dr. Robert Sweeney, Danny’s school principal who was also Derek’s teacher once & who later offered him a path to redemption during his prison time.
Tony Kaye’s direction and David McKenna’s script deserve a lot of praise for being mercilessly brutal & uncompromising. Cinematography switches from black & white to colour and vice-versa throughout the runtime to portray the two different timelines ongoing in the film. Editing is carried out in a very concise & controlled manner and finally, the score by Anne Dudley ends up making a much bigger mark than expected on the whole experience of this film and is intense & boosting with great tracks to elevate the mood as required by the film.
Beginning with a shocking opening sequence, remaining very intense throughout its runtime and culminating with an even more dreadful ending, American History X successfully completes its arc of racism & hate and, in a hard-hitting manner, accomplishes its goal of depicting the price one ultimately pays, sooner or later, for following the path of hatred and signs off with an important message for all of us. A masterpiece that deserves to be seen by all, American History X is potent filmmaking at its best.
Powerful Cinema. Explosive Performances. Strongly Recommended.