American History X

Tucson Weekly

DIRECTED BY: Tony Kaye

REVIEWED: 01-04-99

Films that tell me what to think are boring and insulting, and that's generally what I expect from movies that address race issues. That's not the case with American History X, and that alone makes it satisfying. It tells the story of Nazi skinhead Derek (a buff Edward Norton) and his turnaround while imprisoned for brutally murdering two black men. Largely told via beautifully shot black-and-white flashbacks, it focuses on the impact of Derek's hatred on his younger brother Daniel (the under-cast Edward Furlong). This gives the film resonance as it comments on how impressionable and willing to seek out simple answers we are when we're young, and we watch Daniel spout propaganda that's been fed to him by his brother and White Power guru Cameron (Stacy Keach). The film is also troubling, because much of the story revolves around hatemonger Derek and his clear articulations of his position; in this sense the revelatory ending has less of an impact. Also, Derek's turning point is the result of being raped by another skinhead, so his hatred for non-whites is simply transferred to the group he once supported rather than growing out of realizations about any wrongdoing on his part. The film is certainly thought-provoking in that it brings up more questions than it answers; and avoids the disingenuousness of having the final word on race relations summed up in two hours.

--Higgins

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