American History X

This article was written by guest author Noel Petok.

This movie has it all: controversy, powerful acting, nudity, and deaths that will have you wincing in pain. After a viewing of American History X, other than marveling over the powerhouse storyline, all you will be thinking is “What a performance,” by actor Edward Norton. To say this film is “good” is an immense understatement. True, it is heart-wrenching and disturbing, but will leave you in awe with one word in mind: WOW! This ranks up with those must-see-films that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Back in 1999, surprisingly, this film only received one Academy Award nomination for Edward Norton’s impacting performance as a Neo-Nazi skinhead named Derek Vinyard. It marked Whoopi Goldberg’s third time hosting the yearly spectacle full of glitz and glamour. The more noticeable films that got more praise and larger audiences were Shakespeare in Love with thirteen nominations, Saving Private Ryan with eleven nominations, and Life is Beautiful (Italian title: La vita ¨ bella) with seven nominations. That was a year that was full of surprises with Shakespeare in Love stealing the Best Picture award from the expected Saving Private Ryan and Roberto Benigni winning the coveted Best Actor award for his portrayal in “his” film Life Is Beautiful from the ever so popular Tom Hanks in the epic Saving Private Ryan. The show is a once a year event to see even if it did drag, this particular year, a shade passed the four-hour mark.

American History X was directed by Tony Kaye, written by David McKenna, produced by New Line Cinema, and stars Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Fairuza Balk, and Ethan Suplee. This film was made in 1998 and was given a solid “R” rating by the MPAA. The story follows a skinhead who is sent to prison for three years for murdering two black men who attempted to steal his truck. After being released he is completely reformed into a new human being, but returns home to find his younger brother is in the process of being a Neo Nazi himself. He now focuses his life on making sure his brother doesn’t follow a similar fate.

This film has so much depth, focusing on Edward Norton as the star skinhead and Edward Furlong playing his younger brother who looks up to him for guidance. Fairuza Balk, who got her breakthrough in the film The Craft, plays the dark and at times terrifying girlfriend of Norton’s Derek Vinyard. And finally, Ethan Suplee, from the hit series My Name is Earl, plays Vinyard’s overweight best friend, also a mean skinhead. I also extremely liked the use of black and white scenes to illustrate flashbacks and color for the present. The ensemble cast and chemistry of everyone works to a “T” and never ceases to amaze.

Norton’s portrayal of Derek Vinyard is the focus and power of this film. He fully transformed himself for this role, packing on some extra 30 pounds of muscle for the character’s intimidation, even though he bares a huge swastika tattoo on his chest. In the first part of the film he is buffed out and fully shows us what he is capable of, but by the second half he hides his noticeable strength beneath his clothes. Norton spends a good majority looking mean and harming those around him to hide how he truly feels on the inside. This film is not for the faint of heart and really digs deep and pulls our heart-strings as if it’s an emotional tug-of-war.

Would I recommend American History X? Well it is definitely not for kids. I wouldn’t even say it’s viewable to anyone under 21. It is a film that every adult should definitely see (except, of course, the faint of heart). The only thing I can compare it to is the controversy and power of Dead Man Walking and the performance Sean Penn gave in that film (another strong, powerful film that I would recommend).

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