← Back to Reviews

American History X


The futility and often bone-chilling consequences of hate seems to be the underlying theme of 1998's American History X, a blistering and unapologetic look at racial hatred from all sides that projects hate without filter and offers some really uncomfortable conclusions, primarily that this kind of hate is often taught and unlearned.

As this film opens we meet Daniel Vinyard (Edward Furlong) a bitter and angry Venice Beach California high school student whose older brother has just been released from prison after three years the same day Daniel has turned in a term paper based on the book Mein Kampf, which stems from Daniel's white supremacists leanings, which his teacher (Avery Brooks) suggests he explore by writing another paper on the true inspiration for his beliefs: his older brother.

Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) was an angry young man, whose hate of anyone not white and protestant, seems to have been triggered by the death of his father, manifesting itself into Derek becoming a number one proponent of white supremacy in Venice Beach, sprouting vicious hate propaganda that reaches a fever pitch when two black men try to break into Derek's truck one night and pay with their lives, right in front of Daniel's eyes.

This film is bold and makes no apologies for David McKenna's uncompromising screenplay that offers a powerful indictment on racism on both sides of the spectrum, taking the humorous view of bigotry and prejudice that Norman Lear explored with All In the Family to a new and disturbing level. What's really disturbing here is that Derek has changed upon his release from prison; however, he is unable to erase the influence his past has had on his brother and his struggle to keep his brother from stumbling down the same dangerous path forms the crux of this really ugly story, even though we are privy a little too late as to what changed Derek, it turns out to be too little too late.

Tony Kaye's powerhouse direction is bold and in your face and he has pulled an Oscar-worthy performance from Edward Norton as Derek and an equally powerful turn from Edward Furlong as Daniel that keep this film sizzling. It's not an easy watch, but if you can handle it, it's bold and angry film making that stays with the viewer long after fade out.