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American History X (1998)

His father taught him to hate. His friends taught him rage. His enemies gave him hope.

Starring:

Avery Brooks

Beverly D'Angelo

Edward Furlong

Edward NortonEdward Norton

Elliot Gould

Ethan Suplee

Fairuza Balk

Guy Torry

Jennifer Lien

Stacy Keach

William Russ

Directed by:

Tony Kaye

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 119 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

At first glance, casting Edward Norton as a Neo-Nazi skinhead might seem to be up there with Elijah Wood playing a football hooligan in Green Street, but it works – Norton is scary and more authentically racist than a card carrying member of the BNP.

The action centres around Derek Vinyard (Norton) and his family in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. Although Venice Beach sounds like a lovely place, it is in fact infested by gangs and is a hotbed of racial tension. After Derek’s firefighter Dad (Russ) is killed by a drug dealer whilst attending to a fire in a predominately Black neighbourhood, Derek goes off the rails, joins the White Supremacist D.O.C (Disciples of Christ) and becomes the area’s number one racist. Derek and his White Power buddies terrorise the non-White Protestants of the city until three black men try to steal his truck. He stops the burglary and gains revenge with a kerbside execution that will stay with you for a while. For this he gets a measly three years. Whilst in the can he begins to question his beliefs with the help of inspirational teacher, Dr Sweeney (Brooks), and vows to stop his little brother going down the same path (Furlong).

Edward Norton gives his best performance to date as an angry, hateful individual venting his spleen on the edges of society. He’s mean and moody but, at times, also likeable. The support cast play to their strengths. Edward Furlong, who played the squeaky little brat in Terminator 2, plays a post-puberty little brat here, and the brotherly relationship seems genuine. Ethan Suplee is the film’s comedy foil (boy, does it need one) as Seth, the delightfully obnoxious friend and nuisance of the family.

The Neo-Nazi mindset is put across in a way that it is easy to see how angry, disillusioned teenagers could be recruited to these racist factions. It doesn’t just say ‘Racism is bad’, it says ‘Racism is bad and here’s how it can happen’. American History X is great in that it pulls no punches and everything certainly doesn’t turn out rosy in the end but the characters do learn their lessons and there are some touching moments to warm the heart. The prison scenes are all pretty clichéd with the ethnic gangs, shower scenes and the lovely Black Man who gives the horrible racist a chance and touches his heart, but what do I know, I haven’t been in an American prison yet, and it nicely acts as a turning point in Derek’s story.

It's Got: Sophisticated analysis of racism, Edward Norton in superb form

It Needs: Tougher sentencing

DVD Extras Pretty minimal - deleted scenes, theatrical trailer, cast and crew. DVD Extras Rating: 2/10

Alternatives:

Boyz n the Hood, Crash, This is England

Summary

This excellent analysis of White Supremacists in Los Angeles in a gripping story that entertains, teaches and avoids preaching.

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