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AMERICAN HISTORY X (1998 - R)
"American History X" is a powerful drama that tells of the volatile racism pervading contemporary America and its effects over whites and blacks alike through the lens of young man named Derek Vineyard; former leader of the Neo-Nazi movement in Southern California, who, after his 3 year stint in jail, emerges a changed man ready to spread his new perspective on life.
The cast includes: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, and Beverly D'Angelo.
Written by: David McKenna.
Directed by: Tony Kaye.
Rated: R for graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, strong sexuality, and nudity.
Tagline: There comes a time when the lines must blur.
Set in contemporary Venice Beach, California, the film commences with a young teenage boy, Danny Vineyard (Edward Furlong), current student at Venice Beach High. Recently submitting a paper supporting Nazi fascism and their 'bible', the Mein Kampf', to the disgust of his English teacher, and coincidentally, the ex-boyfriend of Vineyard's mother, Doris (Beverly D'Angelo), Danny is turned over to the highest authority of Venice High: Dr. Bob Sweeney (Avery Brooks). Disturbed, though unable to give up on either Danny or his fated elder brother, Derek, the African-American Sweeney unflinchingly confronts Danny on his skewed perspective and orders him to redo the assignment. This time Danny is to write a paper on his personal reflection of the tragic past of his brother and how it has shaped his own perspective on contemporary America and stereotypes.
As Danny prepares to undertake the assignment, so too does the Vineyard family prepare for the reception of their incarcerated son, the elder Derek Vineyard (Edward Norton). Once the leader of the contemporary Neo-Nazi fascist movement, under the supervision of hate-crime white-supremacist Cameron Alexander (Stacey Keach), Derek created quite a reputation for himself working to 'purify' the streets of Venice and purge from it the hateful aggression of the 'racist' Africans and the 'illegal' Mexicans polluting the hard efforts of noble American citizens. From his power-crazy rebellious girlfriend Stacey (Fairuza Balk), to his best friend Seth (Ethan Suplee), to the hundreds of others who worshipped his persuasive rhetoric, Derek works his way from small time victories to large-scale riots and other white-supremacist acts, all in the name of Hitler and American Pride.
But the man that walks through the gates of Chino prison three years later is not Derek Vineyard. Though his younger brother Danny has eagerly followed in Derek's footsteps, with the continual influence of Seth and Cameron, Derek emerges eager to take the more democratic views of his 'equal rights' sister, Davina Vineyard (Jennifer Lein). But with new white-supremacy swastikas, paraphernalia, and tattoos surrounding the vulnerable Danny vineyard it seems Derek may have a much more daunting task than expected. While Derek tries to keep Danny at bay from the ignorant Seth's propaganda, Danny prepares to undertake Bob Sweeney's assignment, which of course means reflecting on his troubled family past...
After their father was killed on duty as a local fireman by an African American, the devastated Derek begins to develop a viewpoint that all blacks are out to harm the 'hardworking Whiteman'. Thus, with the corroboration of notorious hate-crime columnist Cameron Alexander, Derek begins to form the Venice Beach Neo-Nazi gang; the Skinheads. After exiling a group of Africans from the local basketball courts, Derek prepares to bask comfortably in his reigning notoriety. But when the insulted Africans come back to his house to seek vengeance by ways of bashing in his car and preparing to wreak havoc on the Vineyards, an enraged Derek opens the door and fires point-blank; killing one man, assaulting the getaway driver, and then ruthlessly finishing off the other man. Of course the cops immediately pull up and the 'patriotic' Derek humbly surrenders, leaving his traumatized family crying in the doorway.
Sentenced to Chino State Prison for three years for voluntary manslaughter, Derek attempts to bide his time lifting weights and sticking to the security of fellow Nazi-fascist supporting inmates. While the notorious Vineyard dodges the speculating glances of 'his African enemies', he is less than overjoyed to discover that he has been partnered with an African for his daily job of overseeing the care of the linens. While the unracist African 'ally' gradually wins over Derek's white-supremacist heart, the once Neo-fascist makes a bold move and breaks from the security of his white-supremacist allied inmates. But the fascist inmates are enraged that Derek would ‘betray’ his friends and take to loving the enemy. One humiliating and painful rape and a visit from Dr. Sweeney later and the once narrow-minded Derek begins to open his mind by means of educating himself with books and enlightening conversations with his work partner; all the while preparing for an assault from the blacks. But, as Derek was to note, the assault was never to come.
Three years later Derek would be released from prison, but no sooner is he free than he is badgered to reunite with his former girlfriend Stacey and the rest of the white-supremacists. But when Derek stands up for what he believes to be right, the enraged white supremacists prepare to revolt against their traitorous leader. As Danny struggles to understand Derek’s altered perspective, one that so greatly differentiates from the very racist doctrine that first inspired Danny to partake in Cameron's mission, he listens as Derek unveils the most tragic details of his stay at Chino.
As Derek's enlightened perspective begins to sink into his younger brother, the resentful African American boy who Danny insulted earlier prepares to have his vengeance. Can Derek change Danny's mind about the ways of the world before it's too late? More importantly, will Danny's democratic viewpoints do him any good once he's out in the real world where thousands have yet to adopt a utopian philosophy of equal rights and equal races?
"American History X" is a powerfully controversial and moving drama that evokes the complex multiplicity of political and philosophical perspectives of the vulnerable and ever-changing youth of contemporary America. Edward Norton delivers an unrivaled and powerful performance as Derek Vineyard, and Furlong isn't far behind in his moving performance as the fragile and vulnerable Danny Vineyard. Beverly D'Angelo moves audiences as a grief-stricken mother and widow, Doris Vineyard, and Jennifer Lein's performance as the optimistic Vineyard daughter is a refreshingly clairvoyant and level-headed perspective on contemporary sociopolitical events. Also giving powerful, albeit startling performances is the ever notorious Fairuza Balk as Stacey, and the rookie Ethan Suplee as Seth; a far cry from his role in "Remember the Titans" a few years later.
Both controversial and startling, this blatantly blunt and forthright drama throws the nitty-gritty imperfections and vulnerabilities of humanity into our faces and makes us stare down those faults which though we are embarrassed to admit, consume us all the same. A brilliant fusion of art direction and cinematography compose a harrowing film that rocks the senses and seizes your conscience whether you're in the midst of observing the disturbing riot scene, or the gripping black-and-white footage that is complexly immersed in the antithetical components of nostalgia and shame that emerges in the memories of Danny's childhood.
Though the film seems more film noir and radically controversial than one which would grace the admiration of critical film associations, including the Academy, nevertheless, "American History X" was the recipient of an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (Edward Norton); for which he was more than deserving. Edward Norton is simply captivating in his complex role of Derek Vineyard; from the radical multiplicity of facial gestures, body language, and his at once disturbing, then haunting dialogue. "American History X" was also the recipient of 9 other film association awards and won 2: Satellite Awards for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama (Edward Norton), and the Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Best Actor Award (Ed Norton).
Edward Norton plays Derek Vineyard, the once Neo-Nazi fascist, turned objective humanitarian and peacekeeper after his three year stint in prison.
Edward Furlong plays Danny Vineyard, Derek Vineyard's impressionable young brother who functions as the narrator of the film.
Beverly D'Angelo plays Doris Vineyard, Derek and Danny's grief-stricken mother.
Avery Brooks plays Dr. Bob Sweeney, Derek and Danny's inspirational, albeit African-American, teacher and mentor.
Jennifer Lein plays Davina Vineyard, Derek and Danny's democratic sister.
Ethan Suplee plays Seth Ryan, Derek and Danny's close fascist friend.
Stacey Keach plays Cameron Alexander, the notorious leader and organizer of the skinhead gangs and white-supremacy movements in Southern California.