A former neo-Nazi tries to prevent his younger brother from
going down the same self-destructive path that ruined his life.
American History X (1998)
Directed by Tony Kaye
Written by David McKenna
Starring Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo, Jennifer Lien, Ethan Suplee, Stacy Keach, Fairuza Balk,
Avery Brooks, Elliott Gould, Guy Torry
Oscar Nominations - Best Actor (Edward Norton)
American History X is not a pleasant film, nor is it particularly enjoyable. But it's powerful. Led by an unmatched and career-defining performance from Edward Norton, this film dramatizes one shattered family's endless cycle of self-destruction in the form of neo-Nazism. At first glance, the film does seem to almost glamorize white supremacy, but as the film progresses, we get to see how hatred can destroy your life and the lives of everyone around you.
Norton stars as skinhead leader Derek Vinyard, who is released from prison after serving three years for manslaughter. Now a reformed neo-Nazi, Derek fights to keep his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) from ruining his own life by making the same mistakes. Through the brilliant use of black and white flashbacks, we see the choices that turned Derek from a smart kid with a bright future to a dangerous criminal, and the two characters' arcs almost mirror each other. The film uses a number of seriously uncomfortable moments to constantly remind us of the consequences of having hatred and rage in your heart. Through these scenes, the film loses its rewatchability but shows why it stands out as one of the strongest films of the late 90's.
American History X stands out amidst Edward Norton's impressive filmography. It's a dark, harsh, unforgiving film that never pulls any punches. From beginning to end, it's a film fraught with important political and societal themes that have been relevant for centuries. This film goes the extra mile to really showcase the darkest parts of the American dream, while at the same time retaining the slightest speck of optimism for the future. I wouldn't want to watch it again, but I'm glad I've now seen it.