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"AMERICAN HISTORY X"
(1998) (Edward Norton, Edward Furlong) (R)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Minor Heavy Extreme Heavy Extreme
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Moderate None Moderate Minor Extreme
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Heavy Moderate Moderate Heavy Extreme


QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Upon his release from prison, a former skinhead tries to prevent his younger brother from following him down the same path of hatred and violence.
PLOT:
Danny Vinyard (EDWARD FURLONG) is a troubled, Venice Beach kid whose recent paper on Hitler's "Mein Kampf" has not only gotten him in trouble with his teacher, Murray (ELLIOTT GOULD), but has also landed him in the offices of Principal Bob Sweeney (AVERY BROOKS).

Sweeney's concerned because he's previously seen this fascination with radical racial ideologies in Danny's older brother, Derek (EDWARD NORTON), who's been serving time in prison for killing two black men who were trying to steal his truck. Knowing that Derek is about to be released, Sweeney gives Danny a new assignment -- he must write about his brother's past problems and recent change of heart.

Upon his release, Derek is a new man. No longer full of racial anger and hate, he's concerned when he sees that Danny -- who's having his own problems with some black schoolmates -- has become a skinhead under the guidance of his former mentor, Cameron Alexander (STACY KEACH), a middle-aged white supremacist.

As Danny writes his story, we see flashbacks of the events that lead up to Derek's transformation from a brilliant student to the charismatic poster boy for racial hatred. These include early bigoted beliefs from his firefighter father, Dennis Vinyard (WILLIAM RUSS), before he was murdered by black criminals while on the job, and Derek's later, but increasingly strong convictions that upset that rest of his family, including his mother, Doris (BEVERLY D'ANGELO) and younger sister, Davina (JENNIFER LIEN).

As Derek -- back in the present -- tries to set Danny straight, his changed beliefs not only anger his former girlfriend, Stacey (FAIRUZA BALK), but also Cameron and his hulking henchman, Seth (ETHAN SUPLEE).

WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
If they're fans of Norton, Furlong, or Balk, they might, but this one seems geared more toward older teens at best.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: R
For graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, strong sexuality and nudity.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • EDWARD NORTON plays a former skinhead whose intense racial hated led to his killing of two black thieves. Having served time for that, he's now a changed man and hopes to prevent his brother from traveling down the same path he already has.
  • EDWARD FURLONG plays the younger brother who's also become a skinhead and smokes, but still teeters on full conviction toward white supremacy.
  • AVERY BROOKS plays the concerned principal who attempts to intervene and stop Danny's descent into trouble.
  • STACY KEACH plays a middle-aged white supremacist.
  • FAIRUZZA BALK plays Derek's former girlfriend, a fellow white supremacist supporter.
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 8.5 out of 10
    Undeniably one of the more powerful films you'll see this year, "American History X" is a thought-provoking, moving, and visually stunning first effort from former TV commercial director, Tony Kaye.

    Despite recent, and quite vehement disagreement over the final cut on this film (that had Kaye wanting his name removed from the finished product and replaced with, of all things, "Humpty Dumpty"), this is an impressive feature that will not only stick with you long after you've seen it, but should also whet one's appetite for what Kaye might deliver in the future.

    Strutting his technical visual prowess -- he also served as the film's cinematographer -- Kaye may occasionally go a bit too far with the slow motion effects. After all, how often have you seen water slowly cascading onto a person in the shower? For the most part, however, his overall visual style is impressive and often viscerally stunning.

    Effectively and efficiently mixing present day color footage with the film's many (and often prolonged) flashbacks shot in black and white, Kaye delivers some of the more chilling and taut sequences that I've seen in a film in a long time.

    Ranging from the gripping, stunning and decidedly disturbing opening sequence where Derek kills two thugs, to a harrowing rape in the prison showers, Kaye delivers scene after enthralling scene that are relatively unmatched by even the best suspense thrillers in today's market.

    All of this praise doesn't mean the picture's perfect, however. Beyond the mild overuse of dramatically slowed footage, the film is occasionally too "on the nose," particularly involving the scenes telegraphing the fact that hatred is often born through contactual osmosis (although it certainly makes up for the complete omission of such matters in last week's "Apt Pupil").

    On several occasions the dialogue feels contrived and forced, such as when the boys' long suffering mother -- otherwise effectively played by Beverly D'Angelo -- chats with Danny about not knowing how they "got here" (their living conditions and problems).

    In addition, the editing -- Kaye's main point of contention with the producers and the studio, New Line -- is sometimes a bit rough. In one instance, we hear Danny's voice, but clearly see that his lips aren't moving -- a glaring technical error.

    While some may make a big fuss about those problems and perhaps Kaye's vivid shooting style, such problems aren't horrible and certainly not bad enough to do much harm in distracting the viewer from the proceedings. For the most part, the gripping story and first-time screenwriter David McKenna's often brilliant and rapid fire dialogue easily allow the audience to overlook any minor deficiencies.

    What you won't be able to overlook, however, is the amazing performance from Edward Norton ("Primary Fear," "Rounders"). Furthering my belief (that's similarly propounded by many others) that he's simply one of the best and most gifted actors working today (and perhaps of all time), Norton brilliantly plays his character on so many levels -- not to mention physical appearances -- that his performance is as equally mesmerizing as it is disturbing.

    There's little doubt that this role -- that portrays one of the more menacing and scary characters to come along in years -- will earn him yet another Oscar nomination, and he may just be the odds on favorite to take home that statuette.

    Edward Furlong ("Pecker," "Terminator 2") is also quite good as the quickly maturing, but still impressionable young skinhead. Like his onscreen character, however, he can't help but be overshadowed by his more charismatic costar. Even so, this is probably Furlong's best role in his still relatively young career.

    Avery Brooks (TV's "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") delivers a believable performance as the tough, but caring high school principal, while Stacy Keach (TV's "Mike Hammer, Private Eye") is appropriately creepy and deranged as the near mythic leader of the skinheads. Other minor supporting performances are also first-rate.

    Despite a few glitches and a limited amount of voice over (which is mostly acceptable since the story's told in flashback anyway), this is an impressive picture. Featuring a good score by Anne Dudley, a bold and visually stunning shooting style, and a stellar performance from Norton, this is one of the better films of the year and clearly one you soon won't forget. We give "American History X" an 8.5 out of 10.

    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    Here's a quick look at the film's content. Profanity is extreme with more than 200 "f" words, 60 "s" words, and an assortment of others. One sexual encounter is seen (with movement and limited nudity) and nonsexual nudity (male frontal and rear) also occurs.

    Violence is extreme with several fatal shootings (one of which is very bloody) and a prison rape. Those scenes and others may also come across as tense and disturbing to many viewers. Not surprisingly -- considering the plot -- the film is filled with extreme bad attitudes with many social and ethnic slurs being uttered along with the radical ideologies (such as being a skinhead that some teens may want to imitate).

    Due to the severity of all of that and other material, we strongly suggest that you take a closer look at the content should someone in your home desire to see this film.


    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • Doris has wine with dinner.
  • BLOOD/GORE
  • Some men who've been shot have bloody bullet wounds (seen in black and white).
  • A student's lip is bloody after he's been attacked by other students.
  • Blood runs from Cameron's nose after Derek punches and kicks him.
  • Derek's head is bloody and we see blood mixing with the shower water (in black and white) after he's been assaulted.
  • A student shoots another student in the school bathroom, resulting in both (as well as surrounding areas) being completely covered in blood.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • Obviously, the early incarnation of Derek, along with Cameron, Danny, Seth, and the rest of the skinheads have extreme cases of both (racial and ethnic intolerance and hatred, etc...).
  • Some men try to break into Derek's truck.
  • Some black kids pick on a white kid in the school bathroom, and others have it out for Danny.
  • FRIGHTENING SCENES
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" (especially the fatal ones as well as a prison rape scene) may also be tense to many viewers.
  • Danny hears and then sees some men breaking into Derek's truck. He tells Derek, who gets his gun and then sees a man standing at the front door with his own gun. Derek quickly opens the door, shoots this man many times, shoots and wounds the other man at the truck, and then repeatedly fires at an escaping car, blowing out its back window. Later, we see the continuation of this scene where Derek takes the wounded man, makes him put his open mouth on the curb, and then finally stomps down on the man's head, killing him. Both scenes are very tense.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • Handguns: Used to threaten, wound, or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • Phrases: "Shut the f*ck up," "Piece of sh*t," "P*ckerwood," "Nigger" (said often), "Uncle Tom," "Spooks," "Jungle bunny," "Niglet," "Monkey," "Kike," "Spick," "Bitch" (toward men and women), "Punk ass," "Shut up," "Kick some ass," "Pisses me off," "Pissed off," "Punk," "Idiot," "Bastard," "Nuts" (crazy), "Bloody," "Bad ass," "Crazy ass," "Sucks" and "Screwed up."
  • Some kids may be drawn to the skinhead/Nazi elements (white supremacy, other racial/ethnic hatred) of the film.
  • Derek has tattoos all over his body, including a large swastika on his chest and barbed wire around his biceps.
  • Seth gives Davina the finger. He also aims his video camera at her crotch (we don't see anything).
  • Upset about American "white" jobs being lost to immigrants, Derek, Seth and many other skinheads trash a market run by Asians, beat, intimidate and harass the workers (including pouring food all over a woman), and destroy much of everything inside.
  • Stacey has a pierced nose.
  • JUMP SCENES
  • None.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • A moderate amount of suspenseful music occurs in the film.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • A band at a skinhead party sings the lyrics, "The white man marches on..."
  • A passing car has a rap song playing on the radio, but the lyrics could not be understood.
  • PROFANITY
  • At least 205 "f" words (11 used with "mother" and another 3 used sexually), 60 "s" words, 4 slang terms using male genitals ("p*ckerwood" and "d*ck"), 2 slang terms for female genitals ("p*ssy"), 22 asses (5 used with "hole"), 7 hells, 5 craps, 3 damns, 1 S.O.B., and 7 uses of "G- damn," 4 of "God," 3 of "Jesus," and 1 use each of "Oh God," "Jesus Christ," "For Christ's sakes," "Christ" and "Oh Jesus" as exclamations.
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • We first hear the loud sounds of Stacey having sex with Derek, and then see their movement under the sheets. We then see her bare breast and more movement, and later see him having sex from behind her (movement, but no nudity).
  • While trying to figure out what to type for his paper, Danny types "anal sex" after repeatedly typing "analyze and interpret."
  • Cameron tells Derek that he should relax and "get laid."
  • Derek's partner in the laundry prison room talks about "make-up sex" and then verbally acts out a woman having sex on top of a guy, including exaggerated sexual sounds mixed with talking.
  • We see both full frontal and rear male nudity in a prison shower, including both of Derek. We then see several men grab Derek and hold him against the wall as a larger man rapes him from behind (with movement and sounds).
  • SMOKING
  • Danny smokes quite often, Doris smokes a few times, and some people smoke at a skinhead party.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • We see news footage of Derek after learning that his father (a fireman) was murdered while on the job.
  • An intense argument turns into a tense family scene as Derek won't let Davina leave the room and then gets violent with both his mother and Danny as well. After this, Davina tries to hit him with a bat and his mother then tells him he has to move out and he says he will.
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • Racial/ethnic hatred and division.
  • Skinheads, Nazis, and other hate groups and what feeds them, and the rationale behind their belief and action.
  • That hatred (racial and other) is often passed down through the family to impressionable kids.
  • VIOLENCE
  • Danny hears and then sees some men breaking into Derek's truck. He tells Derek, who gets his gun and then sees a man standing at the front door with his own gun. Derek quickly opens the door, shoots this man many times, shoots and wounds the other man at the truck, and then repeatedly fires at an escaping car, blowing out its back window. Later, we see the continuation of this scene where Derek takes the wounded man, makes him put his open mouth on the curb, and then finally stomps down on the man's head, killing him.
  • Some black kids push a white kid to the floor of the school bathroom. Then they kick him until Danny interrupts them.
  • A player violently elbows Derek in the face during a basketball game.
  • Upset about American "white" jobs being lost to immigrants, Derek, Seth and many other skinheads trash a market run by Asians, beat, intimidate and harass the workers (including pouring food all over a woman), and destroy much of everything inside. As such, they punch and kick people, hit others with a pole, and Derek throws a cash register through a window.
  • In a flashback, Derek is upset that Davina is leaving in the middle of one of his diatribes. He then grabs her by the hair, stuffs a handful of food in her mouth and then knocks aside both his mother and Danny who try to intervene. Moments later, Davina tries to hit Derek with a bat.
  • Upset about Cameron trying to influence Danny, Derek punches and then kicks him. Seth then comes after him and aims a handgun at him, but Derek gets the gun away from him, fires it in the air and points it at others, and then leaves.
  • We see several men grab Derek and hold him against the wall (with a towel around his neck) in a prison shower as a larger man rapes him from behind (with movement and sounds). That man then takes Derek's head and bangs it against the wall, knocking him unconscious.
  • A student shoots and kills another student in the bathroom (leaving a bloody mess).



  • Reviewed October 16, 1998 / Posted on November 20, 1998

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