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American History X (1998) – Movie Review

Considered to be one of the most controversial films ever made at the time of its release, American History X is a film that is ahead of its time, as it tackles issues such as racism, violence and the Neo-Nazi movement that is sadly prevalent today, given the current situation of the world. It provides a hard-hitting, brutal and absolutely devastating depiction of racism in the United States and shows the ultimate consequences of following the path of hatred and violence and it’s further elevated by its incredible screenplay, Tony Kaye’s direction and Edward Norton’s performance.

American History X tells the story of former Neo-Nazi skinhead, Derek Vinyard, who has recently completed his three year prison sentence after killing two black men who were trying to steal his truck and is trying to prevent his brother, Danny, from going the same path as he did years ago. The story is told from Danny’s perspective and utilizes non-linear storytelling to switch between the past and present. Flashbacks showcase how Derek ended up joining the Neo-Nazi movement after the death of his father and how he ended up in jail.

When it was released, American History X was considered to be one of the most controversial films ever made due its violence and excessive language, but in time, it developed a sort of cult following due to its honest depiction of violence and racism in the country that still remains prevalent today and how hatred and violence can destroy someone’s life. Although the film didn’t end up the way he intended to, Tony Kaye still does a great job in presenting that story and it’s further aided by the incredible screenplay, which demonstrates the negative effects of racism and violence. I also love how the film delivers its message, that we must not allow hatred, violence and anger overtake use and we must peace and harmony with each other.

The score by Anne Dudley is magnificent and it adds to the film’s disturbing atmosphere. The cinematography does a great job in switching between the present day and flashback sequences, which utilizes the monochromatic color grading to showcase the events of Derek’s life. Speaking of which, the movie does a great in utilizing the non-linear storytelling to showcase Derek’s life and further advances the story. Danny’s narration also helps complimenting it, as we can hear see the events from his perspective.

However, the most impressive aspect about this film is Edward Norton’s incredible performance. This is arguably the best performance in his entire career, alongside Fight Club. He manages to take a character who has done so many wrong things in his life and is trying his best be a better person and preventing his brother from following the same dark path as he did and makes him more vulnerable. You can feel the anger and pressure the character is feeling and convincingly portrays these emotions. It’s a shame he didn’t win an Oscar for this role, as it’s the role that defined his career. Edward Furlong does a great job as Derek’s brother, Danny, and you follow his story throughout the film.

The gruesome opening sequence, which I won’t spoil, sets the stage for what’s about to come for the rest of the movie and it all ends in a hard-hitting, tragic ending that showcase the ultimate price someone has to pay for following a path of hatred and violence. It’s easily one of the saddest endings I’ve ever seen and remains heartbreaking today. While it can be excessive and gruesome with its messages, it’s undenying how much American History X remains relevant today, as it manages to tackles issues, such as racism and violence, that we sadly still see in today’s history. An absolute classic, I highly recommend it to film lovers and people who haven’t checked it out yet.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ½

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