American History X
Review by Ross Anthony

"Whewwww." An exclamation you'll likely hear exiting a showing of Tony Kaye's American History X. The film is a pressure cooker of kerosene set on simmer. Most of us tend to avoid tension in our daily lives, so if you've forgotten how to stay calm while somebody probes you with a pointed object such as racism -- either you should stay home or make sure you watch this film to it's end.

Yes, whether you're white, black, yellow, Jewish, Christian, or even a visiting extra terrestrial -- you are very likely to have an exercise in restraint. And yes, American History X could be likened to a bent and rusty dental implement; it's audience, a less than perfect set of teeth. Sound like fun? "Fun" is definitely not the befitting word. But "poignant" might be. Especially if you are temporarily mesmerized by the thought of hating -- as in race hate. Then take a look at this picture.

Aside from the uncomfortable feeling one gets at the sight of a bald white man with a swastika the size of a tarantula tattooed to his chest, the film was a bit awkward getting off the ground. The first 20 to 30 minutes were aggravated slightly by some stiff dialogue and sticky acting. But after that, a tar-thick layer of tension was cimematically laid via strong script, careful direction, photography and a subject matter that has the strength in it's little pinkie to tear America in half.

The middle is where this film effectively grabs (or should I say pins) the viewer. A gritting dinner table scene with mother's boyfriend (Elliott Gould) and skinhead Derek (Edward Furlong) serves Rodney King concentrate instead of orange juice. I think I've still got my date's nail marks in my wrist from that one. In another scene, Derek, being handcuffed in slo-mo, connects eyes with his younger brother. That one glare tells the story of their intense relationship. In fact, that one scene is the screenplay of American History X in a glance. Artfully done.

I usually get antsy in longer films. My butt cheeks get cramped, or I'm grinding my teeth to keep my bladder from bursting. For once, this is a film I thought could have gone longer. Derek, gets a perspective-setting lesson in prison (talk about posterior discomfort!). This and a wonderfully developed friendship with a black inmate set his transformation in motion. But it happens a bit too quickly for me.

All in all, Kaye paces this project well. Through its intense scenes and grainy black and white flashbacks, the tale is revealed to us carefully. It's a bold film, not afraid to speak it's mind. If you're bold enough to see it, exercise your tolerance and sit through the whole thing.

American History X is high school student Danny Vinyard's (played by Edward Furlong of T2 fame) essay on his older brother, Derek (Edward Norton) a white supremacist skinhead just released from prison after killing two black men.

Starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong with Elliott Gould and Avery Brooks.
Directed by Tony Kaye. Rated R.


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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:21:18 PDT