American History X
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this flawed but live-wire drama of two brothers caught up in a violence-ridden SoCal skinhead lifestyle raises some important points, but the mixture of very R-rated realism (strong language, hideous violence, and frank sex) makes this a very guarded choice for anyone but older teens and up.
What's the story?
Los Angeles high-schooler named Danny Vineyard (Edward Furlong) offends his teachers and classmates by openly proclaiming his Aryan-supremacist views and praising Hitler. The black principal (Avery Brooks) tries a creative solution, making Danny write a paper examining his older brother and mentor Derek (Edward Norton), an avowed skinhead who served time for murdering a black youth in a streetfight. Just getting out of prison, Derek, thoroughly repentant about his racist past and horrified to see his brother going down the same road, cooperates with the principal trying to set Danny straight.
Is it any good?
It’s certainly "artier" than most films dealing with social ills; it's a live-wire drama, not a dry, TV movie-of-the-week that usually arrives complete with a teacher's study guide and lab coats. Some of the cut-and-dried reasons behind racist youth gangs (lack of economic opportunity, weak adult supervision) can be fleetingly discerned here. Mostly the vibe is emotional, not intellectual, making white-power lifestyles and repugnant politics feel as attractive as rock music to angry young people, then giving the viewer a tragic fadeout to ponder over the consequences. There are times when this movie scores trying to be a strong take on a topic that leaves no audiences feeling neutral. And there are other times when you can feel the filmmakers shaking their mighty fingers at the audience, naughty, naughty. Welcome to the After-School Special of your worst nightmares.
Norton was Oscar-nominated for his role, which he carries off with frightening physicality and conviction. You believe him thoroughly as a swastika-tattooed, head-shaved fanatic, and as a humbled, wiser ex-con trying to do good instead. But the key character of Danny seems badly underwritten, as are the simplistic motivations ascribed to the pathology in the Vineyard home. A late scene laying a lot of blame on the late Mr. Vineyard in the first place seems too convenient. First-time director Tony Kaye clashed with both the film studio and actor Norton over how to handle the story and tried to take his name off the completed film.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how there are actually such things as skinhead-punk gangs who are avowedly anti-racist, and if that's any better a solution to the cycle of violence and reprisal here.
|Theatrical release date:||February 24, 1998|
|DVD/Streaming release date:||January 1, 2003|
|Cast:||Beverly D'Angelo, Edward Furlong, Edward Norton|
|Run time:||118 minutes|
|MPAA explanation:||graphic violence, racism, extensive profanity, nudity, sexual situations, mature themes|