American History X

This is an exciting, violent, and thoughtful film exploring the sensitive subject of neo-nazism. As politicians and social commentators appear at a loss to explain the continued popularity of nazi ideals among some sectors of society this movie goes some way towards explaining how a teenager could be sucked into the fascist movement. The subject is dealt with cleverly, and manages to avoid glamorising the nazi lifestyle, although that shouldn´t be too difficult.

Ed Norton as a Neo-Nazi

Edward Furlong, who plays the younger brother to a psychopathic Edward Norton, narrates the tale. Norton is the lead and portrays an intelligent, bored young man who is sucked into what seems an exciting world by a charismatic and hate-filled old nazi, played by B-movie legend Stacy Keach, who needs someone to front for him. He becomes more and more extreme in his views and inevitably has a negative effect on all those around him even lashing out at his family.

His corruption is partly explained via flashback to his, now dead, father pushing racist views on him at the dinner table, he has been given the impression that his right-wing lunacy is a viable opinion. However he doesn´t seem to need that much motivation and soon becomes the leader of a skinhead pack in Venice Beach. His violence escalates until one particularly harrowing scene where he murders a black man whom he has caught trying to rob his house. Prison is the inevitable result.

After a few years inside Norton is released a reformed character and must strive to prevent his younger brother from following in his footsteps. Edward Norton acts his part well and is truly convincing as both the evil nazi and the reformed decent guy. This film went some way towards launching Norton´s career and he has since established himself as a first-class actor.

Ed Norton and Edward Furlong

The direction, by Tony Kaye, is slick throughout and the settings and characters seemed believable in the context. He uses black and white film to show the recent past and then cuts to colour for the time Derek (Norton) is released from prison. The skinhead bonding scenes are well shot and hint at their desperation to be a part of some social group. The atmosphere is dark and foreboding at times, then hopeful at others. There are many tense scenes with well-acted, explosive arguments and you couldn´t help but feel sorry for the distraught mother trying to come to terms with her evil son.

The movie does a good job of illustrating why kids are attracted to these types of movements in the first place, at the same time as making it perfectly clear that they are all misguided. There are also some clever digs at the lack of logic in their racism and general ideals. The gradually developed friendship, between Norton and one of the black prisoners, when he was in prison was well handled. It seemed to reinforce the idea that racist claims about white supremacy are truly ridiculous, as Norton realises that this guy has a harder life than him and yet instead of being filled with hate he is a cheerful, decent human being.

This film is exciting, fast-paced and violent but also retains a certain seriousness and an underlying anti-racist message. It is fairly gripping, entertaining stuff, well acted and it builds to a shocking and pretty satisfying conclusion.

Reviewed by Simon Hill

Return to Top