Review: American History X (1998)

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David Sunga

Dec 2, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/2/98

Rating: 3 stars (out of 4.0)
Key to rating system:
2.0 stars - Debatable
2.5 stars - Some people may like it
3.0 stars - I liked it
3.5 stars - I am biased in favor of the movie
4.0 stars - I felt the movie's impact personally or it stood out
A Movie Review by David Sunga

Directed by: Tony Kaye

Written by: David McKenna

Ingredients: neo-Nazi, redemption, legacy, family

Starring: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong

When Venice Beach high school student Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong)
becomes drawn to the neo-Nazi movement, the principal puts Danny in a
personal tutoring program whereby he must write about the life his older
brother Derek (Edward Norton), whom he idolizes. Through Danny's eyes,
AMERICAN HISTORY X tells the tale of how wayward brother Derek became
involved with the neo-Nazi movement, was sentenced to prison for a
shooting, served time, and faced the legacy of his mistakes.

AMERICAN HISTORY X is a non-formula movie that approaches neo-Nazism
from a non-stereotypical view. It shows how seemingly average teens with
empty lives might get caught up in a racist social movement perpetrated
by demagogues with political ambitions. Aside from redemption, another
central theme of AMERICAN HISTORY X is the concept of legacy. A man
might serve time in prison, but for both victims and aggressors, the
consequences of former actions continue. Although the pace of the film
somewhat uneven at times, and there is perhaps one unnecessary scene in
the last third of the movie, AMERICAN HISTORY X is an excellent family
drama that is well photographed and poignant as well as superbly acted.

Reviewed by David Sunga
November 21, 1998

Copyright © 1998 by David Sunga
This review and others like it can be found at

Walter Frith

Dec 6, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/6/98

'American History X' (1998)

A movie review by Walter Frith

Member of the 'Online Film Critics Society'

Edward Norton is quickly establishing himself as a solid player among
his Hollywood peers. In three short years in Hollywood, he has played
many different characters: a vicious killer, a pornographer's attorney
and a gambling loser. Not to mention an appearance in a musical. How's
that for diversity? One guy, yes only one, wrote me a short time ago
and said that my movie reviews are too short. In the age of the
Internet where we are literally drowning in information, I told him that
my reviews aren't too short, they're just right, considering the fact
that I want to give people a chance to read other critic's reviews so
why should I ramble on and on and on. Those roles I mentioned in which
Edward Norton appeared ----- research them for yourself to give yourself
some extra time if you feel my reviews are too short. That'll keep you
busy for a while but if you have to look up the roles, you aren't much
of a movie fan.

The hypocrisy of hate, based on race and executing that hate through
criminal actions is examined expertly in 'American History X'. Edward
Norton plays a neo-Nazi skinhead who reforms his ways somewhat, after
being released from prison, and butts heads with his former white power
superior (Stacy Keach). But Norton's biggest problem is that his
younger brother (Edward Furlong), is on the same path and will probably
end up like his brother if he continues on his current course of action.

This film has more grit and raw violence to make its point in a totally
necessary fashion than almost any other film in 1998. The most engaging
thing about some of the scenes is the fact that director Tony Kaye uses
black and white and slow motion during some of the film's most shocking
moments. More importantly, the film doesn't take one course of action,
possibly taking a turn to drag and lose some of its power. The film
jumps back and fourth from the present to the past constantly throughout
its entire running time..

One night Norton executes two black men for attempting to steal his
truck from his driveway and goes to prison for it. In prison and given
laundry detail, he is forced to work with a black prisoner and becomes
drawn to him to the point of near friendship and realizes that there is
good and bad in everyone. A lesson he learned the hard way since his
father was killed by black drug dealers as a fireman and Norton had it
in for all black people based on that one incident. A black man and
Norton's former and his brother's present history teacher (Avery Brooks)
is the foundation building the right path in this movie and re-names
Furlong's class american history x. It's a re-working of his current
class which will be a one on one session each day at school as a
reprimand after Furlong hands in a project arguing hate is the right way
and white way for his race to behave in protecting their civil rights
and Furlong even argues in favour of Hitler.

Edward Norton deserves an Oscar nomination for this film and the social
commentary put forward by writer David McKenna is a constant reminder of
how history is carried on in the present day in American society where
words and beliefs are sometimes more harsh than violence.

Whatever your beliefs are, 'American History X' strives to be a visually
stunning and hard core examination of race relations in America where
just looking the wrong way in other people's eyes can get you killed and
where your right to believe in your own convictions can be as
destructive or rewarding as you allow it to be. One of 1998's ten best

OUT OF 5 > * * * * *

Visit FILM FOLLOW-UP by Walter Frith

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