American History X

on October 30, 1998 by Wade Major
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Notwithstanding the year-long behind-the-scenes feud that resulted in the jettisoning of cinematographer/director Tony Kaye from his own project, "American History X" emerges as one the year's few genuinely provocative works, impressive enough in fits and starts to counterbalance its nagging weaknesses.
After serving a three-year prison sentence for the murder of a black youth, a reformed Nazi skinhead named Derek (Edward Norton) comes home to find his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) following in the same dead-end footsteps. As he works to save his brother and clean up the mess he left behind, old friends and enemies return to throw up their respective roadblocks.
Events leading up to the present are shown in impressive black-and-white flashbacks, with Derek's incarceration constituting almost the entire middle third of the movie.
Alternately didactic and visceral, "American History X" is both difficult to watch and impossible not to. Though considerably talkier than is perhaps prudent, David McKenna's hard-hitting script wisely avoids propagandizing any one point of view, presenting all sides of the racial divide with compelling urgency and honesty. Though the story does ultimately make a moral judgment, it does not do so lightly, nor does it allow the audience the luxury of righteous satisfaction--a fatalistic, if realistic, view that will not sit well with certain viewers.
Arguably stronger as a cinematographer than as a director, Kaye has given "American History X" an unmistakable look, accented by stunning black-and-white imagery--more than sufficient compensation for such occasional indulgences as one would expect from a commercial and music video director. Kaye's hand with actors, however, is less certain, betraying an awkwardness with dialogue and staging that could easily have bogged down the narrative were it not for the superlative acting skills of the two Edwards. There's scarcely a false note to the performance of either Furlong or Norton, the latter an almost certain Academy Award nominee. Starring Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo, Fairuza Balk, Avery Brooks, Elliott Gould and Stacy Keach. Directed by Tony Kaye. Written by David McKenna. Produced by John Morrissey. A New Line release. Drama. Rated R for graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, strong sexuality and nudity. Running time: 122 min
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