American History X (1998) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, strong sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 119 min.
Cast: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo, Jennifer Lien
Director: Tony Kaye
Screenplay: David McKenna
Review published May 20, 1999
American History X is set in Southern California, where neo-Nazi youths known as "skinheads" are emerging under the direction of an influential Nazi sympathizer who blames all of the country's ills on immigrants and minorities. One of his protégés (Norton, Rounders) ends up killing two Black youths out to steal his truck in cold blood, and is sentenced to a three year prison stint. The hardened prison life succeeds in showing him some of the errors of his ways, but when he is released he finds his younger brother (Furlong, Pecker) is following in the footsteps of his racism.
Bolstered by a memorably strong performance by Edward Norton, American History X is a mish-mash of decent ideas defeated by overly manipulative plot devices and unrealistic moral grandstanding. The directing by Tony Kaye (Detachment, Lake of Fire) is stylishly effective, and the cast of supporting actors chip in what they can, but the script by David McKenna (Get Carter, SWAT) suffers from too many clichés and overdrawn pitfalls that could have otherwise left the film successfully compelling.
From the get-go, it's obvious where the film is headed as well as what the ending is going to be, and in trying for the emotionally contrived final moments, it throws all credibility at a realistic look at the skinhead problem into the wind for obvious Hollywood plotting.
While its heart is definitely in the right place, a little more input from the head would have helped in this provocative but overcooked drama.
©1999 Vince Leo