Having a career filled with great films Edward Norton truly made his mark with this one, American History X. After having been nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his turn in Primal Fear, he followed that up with another astounding performance in American History X. This time he was nominated for a Best Leading Actor Oscar.
Norton carries this film on his bulked up shoulders here. Though this is Norton’s time to shine, he is ably supported by the rest of the cast. Especially Edward Furlong. This is definitely his finest moments in film. Bringing the right mixture of intelligence, vulnerability and fear to his character. You are both disgusted and sympathetic at the same time to the characters of Derek and Danny.
A film which grips you from the very first scenes. You watch it with a feeling of sadness and dread knowing that something bad is about to happen. Is just around the corner. Is inevitable. Very early on you get the feeling this is not going to end well. And yet, this does not “ruin” the film. You remain invested and interested in the story.
It is quite a story. Part digusting. Part hopeful. Always riveting. Involving racism, it is at times a real tough watch. Parts which many of us cannot relate to. Do not understand. That is the sign of a good film, though. That it can interest us in a subject matter which disturbs us. Have us wanting to watch something we hate and not only educate, but give us a picture of the other side. The side we don’t understand. Show us that the story is not linear. There are different ways of looking at it. Different circumstances which lead to people becoming skinheads/racists. Open our minds a little.
Spending a few years in jail has actually done Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton – Birdman, Isle of Dogs) some good. He went in a violent racist and three years later he is released a changed man.
Changed and better and wanting everyone he loves to be changed as well. Especially his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong – Pet Semetary II, Terminator 2: Judgment Day), who seems to be traveling along the same path he was before going to jail. Derek is going to do his best to help Danny leave that life.
Through flashbacks we learn that Derek was taught to be a racist by his father (William Russ – from television’s Boy Meets World). As he grew older and after his father was killed by a black man, Derek becomes a skinhead and the leader of a white supremacist gang. This gang wages a war on any ethnic individual or group. All he does makes quite an impression on his adoring younger brother, Danny.
It all leads to a horrible evening when two young African Americans try to steal Derek’s truck in the middle of the night. Derek kills both of them. While in prison his opinion of blacks and other ethnicities changes due to his friendship with Lamont (Guy Torry – Pearl Harbor, Runaway Jury). Now, he wants Danny to escape a life of hate, violence and racism.