American History X

Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 59 Minutes

Reviewer: Erik
Grade: B+

"American History X" surprised me. I've read reviews that accused the movie of being unbelievable or unconvincing. The movie has flaws, yes, but not nearly as many as some would have you believe.

The movie stars Edward Norton as Derek Vinyard, a neo-Nazi skinhead whose destructive path leads to family problems, barbaric acts on immigrants and finally, a double-murder that puts him away for three years. As the movie opens, Derek has just gotten out of prison.
His goal is to get his family back on track, and his primary focus is to save his brother Danny (Edward Furlong), who's heading down the same destructive path of racism as he did. In addition, he wants to make amends with his mother (Beverly D'Angelo) and his sister (Jennifer Lien).

It'll be hard to distance himself from his old self, when he's visited by his neo-Nazi pal Seth (Ethan Suplee), still has ties to his racist ex-girlfriend Stacy (Fairuza Balk), and is looked upon as a hero by Cameron (Stacy Keach), the local rabble-rouser who eagerly recruits more young warriors to fight for his cause.

At the beginning of the film, Danny has been punished in school for writing a book report on "Mein Kampf." His new assignment is to write a new paper, a better paper, this one focusing on race relations.

In the course of the day, Derek will do what he can to save his family and sever ties with his past. Much of the last half-hour is spent in a flashback, explaining to his brother how prison changed him.


Here's where some of the criticisms of the movie lie. In prison, Derek will become part of a racist group, who have apparently given up the cause in prison in order to look out for themselves. He'll also befriend a black convict who will make him see things differently through friendly, comical chatter.

Why is it hard to fathom that Derek could see things more clearly, since his idea of the "cause" has been tarnished? Why is it so hard to believe that Derek could see the light through simple exchanges that focus on basketball and women? If human beings can relate to something and that opens the door to friendship, is that so unbelievable?

If there's a flaw with "American History X", it's the explanation of Derek's racism. It tries to explain, but comes off somewhat awkwardly. It also comes late in the movie and feels misplaced.

"American History X" delivers a powerful message, has a superb performance from Norton and shows that hatred only causes destruction and more hatred.