American History X (1998) Poster

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This is a fantastic movie....
jmchnwth7 January 2006
This is a fantastic movie because no matter what side you're on in life, this movie shows them all, good and bad, right or wrong. I also agree with the point in the movie that proves that people can change for the better and straighten things out in their head to do the right things in life. Yes, things in our world have changed, some for the good, some for the bad, but just because you might not agree with some of it, doesn't mean you can play God and try to make things "your way" and this shows exactly what happens when you try. This movie talks about all walks of life and the struggles we all have in what beliefs are right and wrong. Yes this movie is brutal and violent, but also truthful to the past and unfortunately still sometimes the present. This movie is about race, but not only 1 race is singled out and fed to the dogs, they all are. So, go into this movie with an open mind and your mind will come out full.
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A masterpiece! Truly one of the best film I have ever seen
exa5626 January 2006
I have been wanting to see this movie for a long time, since my English teacher mentioned it in our class in grade ten. Gosh I wished I wouldn't have waited all this time to finally watch it, although maybe it's a good thing cause I would have probably been a little bit more traumatized at 14... This movie is exceptional!!! Makes u think, makes you frustrated, makes you wanna scream and even makes you cry! Edward Norton is just phenomenal playing the role of a freak skin head and even more so playing this skin head who finally realizes how stupid he was and tries to protect his younger brother. Edward Furlong also does an amazing job!!! This film is moving in so many ways...I can't even describe how real and heartfelt it felt. I definitely think Edward Norton should have won the Oscar for his performance, cause he was absolutely terrific! I can't get why they didn't gave it to him... This movie will surely stay on my mind for a while now... just thinking that some place in the world things like that still crushes my heart. This is a wonderful movie that every single person should see at least once in his life... Watch American History X, it totally worth it!
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The Most Dangerous Person To Us Is Ourselves
alexkolokotronis1 February 2009
American History X is a movie of its own. It has a little bit of everything in the way it touches you. This of course making it a very though provoking film. There isn't a genre you can place this film in because it is a not a crime story, action or even a simple drama instead it is a humanistic thriller. What it is about, is the battle over ourselves.

Who better than to display these wild but common complexities within people than Edward Norton. The range he shows here is astounding in only his fifth movie. Norton plays Derek Vinyard, a skin head that realizes through cruel yet necessary events in his life that he has gone down the wrong path. When he comes out of jail he attempts to stop his brother played Edward Furlong from going down the same road he had done. Through all his efforts though some things just prove to be inevitable. Avery Brooks also gives a great performance as Derek Vinyard's former teacher and now principal of his former school. His words may not be of the most inspiring but his actions and messages sent across are subtle yet strong and to the point.

Norton's performance though wasn't just about range but exploring different dimensions of life. Whether it proved to be psychological, social or even political on a certain level. It is a transforming performance revealing something mind blowing and eye opening. That we, and this includes anyone, can take a devastating turn in life no matter how intelligent we are or thoughtful. That the person that determines the outcome of your life is yourself whether it is good or bad. Norton's realizations aren't through teachings such as the ones that got him in jail but they are through the events in the time he spent in jail. He saw the truth for himself realizing then what is false and what is real.

The screenplay written by David McKenna is about as versatile as the performance Norton gives. Not only because of the Derek Vinyard character but because of the characters involved in his life. For example the root of his evil did not come from the murder of his father but rather his father himself. Through just a conversation at breakfast did his negative thoughts get really embedded eventually then leading to them dramatically taking over his mind and way of life. Only when his father got killed did these negative thoughts seem justified. The way this screenplay and direction was able to display this message in just a plethora of other underlying tones was spectacular.

What makes this movie great though is that you can truly find yourself in the messages delivered. As much as the main character might not seem relevant or connected to many people it his emotions and functioning of his mind that all of us are able to connect with. Yet what makes a movie great is not simply the message or messages sent across but how powerfully they are delivered. American History X delivers its multiple and intertwining messages about as powerfully as I've seen from a film.
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One of the most powerful movies I have ever seen.
Boba_Fett113819 July 2005
I was expecting a kind of a moralistic movie with an overly present, almost preaching like message. The movie however turned out to be extremely powerful mainly due to the professionalism it was made with.

The movie its story is told 'beautifuly' in black & white and color. The quite original directing from Tony Kaye gives the movie a nice visual style and certain atmosphere. The story itself isn't that complicated or extremely original on its own and perhaps at most points even predictable but the way the story is told is phenomenal. This is not a movie with an happy ending or a movie that provides a solution to the racial discrimination problems. It shows what is NOT the solution to the problems and that everything that is occurring is like a vicious circle. The movie does not give a hopeful message but instead shows the dangers and pain you're causing to yourself and your close environment when you're thinking as a white supremacist.

As an anti Neo-Nazi movie this movie works really powerful. I think that its a really good and important thing that this movie is often shown in classrooms.

Edward Norton is truly fantastic in his role. He is very well believable as a Neo-Nazi as well as the reformed person he later turns into in the movie. It's almost like he's playing 2 different characters and he does that so extremely well. Also really good was Edward Furlong who we all long had not seen in a big production. Furlong and Norton are both acting well together in their scene's are highly believable as two brothers.

Also surprising good was the musical score by Anne Dudley who had already won an Oscar for "The Full Monty", the year before.

This was a movie that surprisingly impressed me. As a movie its extremely powerful and important.

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An amazing film
jerry_bear332 April 2000
A good friend of mine suggested this film, and I really didnt know what to expect going in, but after this film was over, I sat in stunned silence. I knew that racism was horrible, but I found through this film that it does not come without a terrible price..the loss of love, friends, family...and the realization that everything that you believed to be true isnt always the way things are. Edward Norton's performance takes the viewer through this journey, and its not a pretty one. He goes from an bright young man, to a vengeful bigot, to a remorseful excon with a brothers life in jeopardy, and you feel as though you are looking in on someones life in the course of 2 hrs. All of the acting in this film is first rate, and the ending wasnt quite as predictable as others might have you is quite shocking, as is much of the film. It causes quite a debate on the way people view others whos skin color is not the same. As Dr. King said, judge me not on the color of my skin, but on the content of my character. I live with racism, because I am a black man living in exists, but if we educate ourselves like the main character in AHX, it wont stay around for much longer. Hopefully it wont be too late, as it was for him. Peace and Love, JB33 Rating 5 stars
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Edward Norton delivers a staggering performance as an extremely intelligent white supremacist who realizes the wrongness of his views and must then try to prevent his younger brother form going down the same
Anonymous_Maxine28 August 2000
Warning: Spoilers
American History X is one of the most powerful movies released in years. Not since Schindler's List has the subject of racism been so potently presented. The use of black and white cinematography to portray painful flashbacks is amazing, and the settings, while not necessarily pretty, fit the story flawlessly.

Derek Vineyard's (Edward Norton) transition from a white supremacy leader's protege to a gang leader himself to a changed man is shown mainly through a series of flashbacks to the time before he was sent to prison. The character development and story are amazingly well done, and this is largely a factor of the high quality of the acting. Edward Norton especially, but also Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo, and all of the rest of the cast down to Avery Brooks as Bob Sweeney, the African American high school teacher who comes up with the term American History X, and Stacy Keach as the wonderfully hateable Cameron Alexander. Keach, by the way, would have been the perfect choice to play Francis Dolarhyde in Manhunter, the film the precedes The Silence of the Lambs, but oh well.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that American History X is one of the best films in years, it is horribly underrated. Much like Norton's last film, Primal Fear, which was also a great movie, this movie did not get nearly the recognition that it deserves.
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This was probably the best movie I've ever seen
Ari-219 December 1998
I honestly don't think I have ever seen a better movie than American History X in my entire life! I may only be 14, but I have seen a lot of movies. I am an avid fan of them, and this one just takes the cake. Edward Norton is just unbelievable. He is the most talented actor I've ever laid eyes on. His performance in the movie is phenomenal. He delves so deep into his character that he can convince the whole audience easily of his neo-nazi role. The look on his face as he walks back from killing one man in the first seen is purely horrifying. The entire move was dramatic, intriguing, and powerful. It really is moving and emotional as well as scary. It is so true to life, and provides the viewer with such insight into the life and events that create a monster such as Derek Vinyard. It answers many questions I have long awaited an answer to such as what could possibly make someone act as Derek did in this movie, yet left open-ended many others that people such as myself may have. Almost every single scene in the movie was extremely captivating. I can't even go on to say more about the acting, other than if Edward Norton does not win best actor this year, I will go absolutely nuts. It's bad enough he lost it to Cuba Gooding Jr. when he was in Primal Fear, which was yet another incredible performance by him. Edward Furlong, the little kid from T2 is astounding as the confused brother of Derek. I was stunned walking out of the theater after seeing American History X, and I don't think I will ever have the benefit of seeing another movie as good as this one as long as I live. I recommend anyone with a good tolerance for violent and graphic depictions go see this movie. I am bewildered as to why director Tony Kaye would ever want out of this success. If I were to rate this movie, as I often do for others in reviewing them for school, I would give it an A+ with all of my heart.
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Best movie of 1998
KoRnNut-21 March 1999
Powerful portrayal of Neo-Nazi movement in America. Told in series of flashbacks. Flawless acting by Edward Norton. Does its best to make the point that no one is ever right aand no one is ever wrong. I have a friend who was a Nazi and a racist. But upon walking out of the theater after this movie he hung his head in shame. This is why the film industry began.
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American Neo-Nazi gets a wake-up call
vanillabeach7 November 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Edward Norton plays Derek Vinyard, a violent but also intelligent neo-nazi. After brutally killing two black people who tried to break into his car, Derek is sent down for a couple of years. Meanwhile, his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) is busy following in his brother's footsteps. After certain incidents in prison gives him time to thing, Derek decides to reform on his way out. Once out, he realises how quickly in number his old gang of nazi thugs has grown and wonders if he can save his brother.

This is a brilliant film. Perhaps what disturbs me the most is the way that Edward Norton looks so brutal, yet sounds so intellectual throughout the film.

Although the film contains a constant strong theme of violence, it is always justified in portraying a picture of racial tension. Neither black nor white people are "judged" in the film, it's primary focus being to outline that it's people's brutality that causes a racial divide, not race itself.
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Controversial, yet very amazing & moving film
dmaul71119 April 2000
When I first heard of "American History X," I thought it was going to be "just another movie." Man, was I wrong! The first time I watched it, I sat there as it ended, and I was just completely in a state of shock. This movie, more than any other movie I had seen on the subject of racism, really made me think twice about how I treated people of a different race. The way that Derek Vinyard's family was almost completely split apart and destroyed due to his racist beliefs should be a wake-up call to those people who have any racist beliefs whatsoever. I believe that this movie was a whole lot more than just a ground-breaking, controversial drama; it was a portrayal of exactly how much damage can be done to a family and a nation simply because of the hate for a person or people of a different color, for almost no reason at all. The Bible says that "God created man in his own image." It also says to, "Love your neighbor as yourself," which, right there, implies that racism is not something people should even consider. I wouldn't recommend that anyone under the age of 16 see this movie due to its graphic content and language; however, I believe that everyone who is over the age of 16, should see this movie at least once. This way, more people will get a chance to see the true consequences of racism, and how it can easily tear apart a family.
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Changed My Life.
seventhsamurai19547 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
American History X really opened my eyes to the world of racism and how cruel human beings can be sometimes. This story follows a violent extreme skin-head (Norton) that spends three years in jail for killing two black people and how he changed through jail. He then tries to help his younger brother, who idolizes him, not to go down the same path he did. You really can't find a more powerful movie than this. This movie forces you to open your eyes through harsh realism and although some things are disturbing, it makes you take notice. Everything about this movie is so incredible I can't even find words for it. All I can say is that if you have not seen this movie, it really is a must to see because it teaches you something and is really powerful.

Norton's best performance and a must for everyone.
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Why can't we just stop hating each other?
Smells_Like_Cheese27 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This movie, got to me! I mean got under my skin got to me. It is so effective, the performances were just perfect. We have Edward Norton and Edward Furlong, two fine actors, they play two skin head Nazi racist brothers who are very violent. We start off at a very disturbing scene where we see how Edward Norton's character is put in jail for killing an African American very violently. When he comes back, he has just learned so much that no school, no white man could ever teach him: self respect, respect for others, respect for life, for his family, and knowing that "We can't live our lives p*ssed off". He is touched when he learns that his brother's teacher is asking him to write a paper about racism and how it effects today's society called "American History X". But when Eddie just gives a wrong look to the black kid in school, some things go terribly wrong.

First off, Ed Norton's old "friends" turn on him because he wishes not to be part of their very racist gang. Even his own brother who followed his footsteps hates him for turning on the gang. But Ed Norton takes Eddie and tells him his passionate and harrowing experience in prison. Eddie seems to start to see the light, but there is an extremely powerful ending that will make even the toughest guy shed a tear. I highly, very much highly, recommend this movie for everyone. Even for the kids, though you might want to turn them away for a few scenes, but that's how powerful this movie is. Trust me, this movie should not be missed and it sends a message.

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Not perfect but still very strong
bob the moo8 November 2003
Years have past since Danny saw his neo-nazi brother, kill several black males who were robbing his car. Since he has been in prison, Derek's legacy has grown among the white gangs of the area and Danny has followed in his brother's footsteps. When he writes a racist paper for school, his teacher makes his write a new paper, focusing on recent history – that of his brother and how he influenced him. Meanwhile Derek leaves prison a reformed man with only the desire to repair the damage he once did to his family with his beliefs and his hate.

I was looking forward to see this film as I missed it at the cinema and am a firm believer that Edward Norton is one of the most talented actors of his generation and is always worth seeing (even if some of his films have given less than he deserves). It was maybe better that I only saw it recently as I was able to enjoy it without all the hype and fighting over who did what to who, or all the comments from director Kaye as to his opinions of the film. Having seen the pompous fool interviewed several times, I find it quite self assuring that I don't agree with his opinions of it!

The plot is a mix of flashback into Derek's hate filled past (told in b&w) and the present (colour) where he is desperate to save his brother and family from suffering anymore from his `sins'. As a basic narrative the film struggles at times to make a solid story and seems to be trying too hard to create confrontations to up the drama within the film. It still works mind you but this is not it's best asset.

The main thing the film does well is to be a very true representation of white male disillusionment. The film avoids painting these people as monsters straightaway (although makes no bones that they are confused, misled and wrong). The arguments and discussions they have in the film are not so far from reality that the characters seem fiction – the characters and the film's world seem very real. The film's message that hate is no way to live no matter who it is directed at may be a little simplistic but it is a valid point. One particular weakness which I felt was a little hamfisted was Derek's `road to Damascus' experience in prison – it was OK but was far too easy given the character we had just seen brutally kill several black men.

The other main selling point the film has is a performance by Norton that simply ensures he steals nearly every scene he is in. In b&w flashback he is at his best – a larger than life character who is never allowed to just be seen as a thug. Norton acts out the various stages of his life well and makeup ensures that he looks younger when required. In the present he is less dominant but still is very good giving a different performance. Furlong is also very strong, although he only has a few scenes where he is able to be outside of Norton's shadow. Support from Balk, Gould, D'Angelo and Brooks is mixed – Gould's Jewish character is only in the film to allow for one scene to occur, while Brooks' righteous teacher is simply a `morally upright teacher' with no meat on his character.

Overall this is a good film, which occasionally struggles when it forces the issue in the `present' scenes. However for the most part it is a powerful film which owes a lot to well captured themes and an excellent performance from Norton.
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See reality in your eyes when hate makes you blind...
Lady_Targaryen27 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
''American History X''is one of the most amazing movies I watched in my life! My dad gave me the tape to watch, and after almost 2 weeks of laziness to watch this movie, I finally watched it 2 times! First, I need to say that both Edwards( Norton and Furlong)are great! Edward Norton specially REALLY looks a skinhead, showing all his anger and awesome body in this movie.

I like the end of this movie (who is very sad by the way, since I liked the character Danny very much)showing how hate and violence only makes even more hate and violence, in a effect like a snowball.The other ending that never was filmed, in which Derek shaves his head again in the school bathroom,would not help very much with a good message, but it could have some sense, showing that the prejudice and the racism will continue no matter what we try to solve it. (But it is too pessimistic!)

I don't think this movie is racist like many people are saying. It is against racism, since the moral of the story was to show how the prejudice of all races and ethnicities only can make problems and anger for everybody.

It's funny to see how many goofs we have in this movie. I didn't pay attention to any of them, since the story itself makes you not bother with errors.
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Intelligent Drama
gingerkris28 September 2004
Strong performances by Edward Norton & Edward Furlong really make this film for me. The direction by Tony Kaye with his mixture of black & white history contrasting with colourful reality is magic to absorb and shows this film up to be what it is – a true American Classic, ironically by a British director. The film itself is about two brothers, Derek the elder and Danny the younger adoring sibling. Derek has been in jail for three years after killing a black youth who tried to rob the family; the nature & brutality of the crime still shocks me to this day. AHX tracks Derek's history through the first formation of racist sentiment laid down by the father. These feeling of hate are embedded when later his father is killed in the line of duty. Derek becomes involved in the local Nazi movement, his intellect turned by youthful rage into hate crimes and the rational that comes with Neo Nazi propaganda. The Nazi-tattoo sporting, egotistical, philosophical younger Derek is a steam train waiting to crash, his propulsion to stardom is eventually embodied when he takes the life of the young thief, the scene is very apt as he calmly lies down and knows he will be a hero to his friends. Without wanting to spoil the film Derek encounters change in the prison, he meets a black man whom he works with and faces his own demons inside, I will leave it there for those who want to be moved by his transformation. Anyway, he comes out a new man and only wants to be that new person, which means leaving the old crowd, leaving the Anti-Jewish sepal he's been living with so long. The problem lies with his brother who has become a little Derek, getting drunk and being influenced like he was. Derek's cross to bear is that he can't change his life without his brother coming with him and being on the right side of humanity. I think that this film is less about race and more about our ability to change as individuals, the fact that we can become what and who we want is a gift. Derek becomes the man he always wanted to be, he only wants the same for his brother. Kaye's use of black & white creates an atmospheric drama that builds tension and has you feeling like a stung out piece of drum leather by mid movie. I love the way that Kaye subtly uses quotes and intellectualises the Nazi Stance, only to watch it being broken down by the same man (Derek / Norton). Norton is a joy to watch as is Gould and Furlong. To sum up American History X is a powerful intelligent drama, which provides plenty of discussion after the movie. This film should be on every high school curriculum…
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Not a perfect film, but very good - Norton's performance is the highlight
MovieAddict20162 September 2005
"American History X" is a bold and disturbing movie about family, racism and our own self-perceptions. Its main character is Derek (Edward Norton), a neo-Nazi skinhead who is released from jail to find his younger brother (Edward Furlong) descending down the same corrupt path as he once walked.

In jail Derek learns a few things about life, and racism, or more appropriately, himself, and after becoming a free man again takes it upon himself to set his brother on the straight and narrow path.

"American History X" is not a pleasant motion picture. It begins in flashback, as Derek murders two black kids trying to break into his car. His brother, who idolizes Derek and later mimics his lifestyle, witnesses this event. It's a good message about negative influences, along with everything else.

Much has been made of the film's controversy and lawsuits. Director Tony Kaye disowned the film after Norton (allegedly) re-edited footage to give himself more screen time. Kaye tried to have his name changed on the film credits, but by this time he had already taken out a complaint in several magazines, which are against the rules of the Director's Guild. He was therefore denied the opportunity to credit the work as "directed by Humpty Dumpty." Then, musical band Anti-Hero complained to New Line Cinema (the film's international distributor) because one of the Nazi characters featured a tattoo of their band. They later wrote a song, called "NLC," bashing the company.

Despite the hard-edged controversy it's still a very good film, above all else extremely well-acted and featuring a gripping storyline – even if the direction isn't always up to par.

Edward Norton is simply superb in his role, showing extremely raw talent a mere two years after his film debut (in the Richard Gere thriller "A Primal Fear"). Norton careens between the role of a raging, vicious supremacist and a kindler, gentler version of the same character; a metamorphosis so convincing it's hard to believe it's just one actor.

The rest of the cast is good as well – Furlong gives the best performance of his career and Beverly D'Angelo and Stacy Keach have strong supporting roles. (D'Angelo in particular, who portrays a sleazy alcoholic – a stretch compared to her usual Normal Mom roles in the "Vacation" movies.) "American History X" isn't exactly rewarding of all the praise it has been lavished since its release (mainly from viewers rather than critics, who were less kind) – it isn't the best movie of its kind or even a flawless one. The black-and-white photography isn't on the same level, visually, as "Raging Bull" or "Schindler's List." The preaching is a bit heavy-handed at times.

But it still manages to convey an important lesson and boasts great acting complimented by an (overall) impressive, gut-wrenching screenplay. A must-see for all who can stomach its content.
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Norton takes throne as best Actor of his generation
snapdggler13 February 2000
Warning: Spoilers
In just a short career, Edward Norton has emerged as the best actor of his generation. 5 films, 2 oscar nominations, and the best performance I have ever seen turned in by a modern actor. In this film, Norton plays a skin head who goes to Prison for brutally murdering two black men who are attempting to steal his car and comes out reformed only to find that his brother (Edward Furlong, turning in a fine performance) is headed right down that same route.

Yes, the "hate is bad" message is overplayed and by the end of the film you've been hit over the head with it. The scenes, as well as the story, are minimal and the "shocking ending" is predictable, but it all doesn't matter. It's all more of an actor's piece than any one else's and Edward Norton turns in the most amazing performance I have ever seen captured on film. No longer, the sweet innocent psychopath he was in Primal Fear, Norton bulked up considerably for this role and it pays off.

It is, hands down, the most powerful American film in decades. I'd give it a 12 out of 10 if I could.
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Great work
sallyshirla29 September 2018
IT can be simplistic at times, but the messages are powerful in this great Ed Norton film. Hard to believe it's been so long since the film was made. Definitely recommend it to anyone fascinated by how Neo-Nazism could possibly exist in the modern age.
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Not all that it's cracked up to be...disappointing.
Manthorpe6 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Derrick Vinyard (Norton) is thrown in jail because he brutally murdered two black men one fateful evening when they tried to steal his car. He is a monster of a Nazi and is quite well known around the community as such. While in prison, Derek has had time to think and he realizes that his reasons for believing in what he does are complete and total frauds. His younger brother Danny (Furlong) seems to be heading down the same path. Can Derek convince his brother to change his ways before it's too late?

Ed Norton deserves all the credit he receives as a talented actor, and he definitely shows off his skills here. It's hard to believe that he's the same skinny weakling that he portrayed in Fight Club. He's a big muscle bound monster filled with hate for the first portion of the film and is then transformed into a man that has seen the light and faults in his ways. Top notch actor. Edward Furlong, despite being in only a few films, also shows off his acting abilities...however, neither one of them could save this film.

Minor Spoilers:

The premise of the movie itself would make it worthy of being in the Top 250, however it has serious flaws in execution and especially the script, as it's filled with entirely unbelievable situations. Too bad because I really wanted to like this one. Nazis playing basketball with local black gangs? Um, yeah m'kay? But a bigger flaw has to be Derek's reasons for having the beliefs he does and the reasons he changed them. His racist beliefs stem from his father's dislike for minorities and from his death in which he is killed by black people while trying to put out a fire in a crackhouse. The latter is believable but the look into his father's beliefs in the dinner scene was entirely unnecessary and laughable at best. Once in the slammer, he makes friends with a black inmate who enlightens Derek's view by telling him sex jokes. And although Derek has had the Nazi beliefs he has had for many years, a simple joke or two and getting rammed in the bootay by fellow Nazis in prison sway his opinion to the opposite. It could happen right?

The ending was what really put me off though and is the main reason why the movie showed itself, to me, to be pretentious. It would have made infinitely more sense had Derek been killed, but having Danny killed for simply blowing smoke in some black kids face is a serious flaw concocted by the makers, and is again, unbelievable. It makes me wonder what they actually thought when they first read the script. I guess they figured it would blow the audience away as there would be no way for them to foresee the final events. I believe that most people fell for this simple trick and is most of the reason why this film has such a lofty rating here at IMDB. Ideally, Danny's life should have been spared for Derek's redemption. Sure, it would've been a "happy" ending, but what we are left with is much worse. Groan.

This film left me very disappointed as I was looking forward to it's story and had heard many good things about it. However, the movie is simply not believable. A movie dealing with real issues needs to be, I don't know, more realistic.

Great acting, decent camera work, but terrible script.

Generously, 7/10
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Highly compelling, but not entirely convincing
kylopod13 March 2006
The concept of a reformed neo-Nazi is so intriguing that it's a wonder there haven't been more movies on this topic. Once you see "American History X," however, you will understand why. The movie's racial themes are provocative and unsettling, far outside the comfort zone of the average viewer, and the movie additionally has the challenging task of explaining how a violent criminal changed his ways. Does the movie convincingly explain that transition? Not entirely.

It's an engrossing movie, nonetheless. It uses a device more common in literature than in the movies: inter-cutting between several story-lines. First we see Derek (Ed Norton) as a free man, newly released from prison, and having developed a conscience. Then we see earlier points in his life when he was a white supremacist, and finally the prison experience that changed him. The non-chronological approach is very effective, making the movie about as engaging as any thriller, even though the plot itself offers few surprises. Had the film followed a more conventional timeline, we'd have quickly grown impatient waiting for plot developments that were inevitable. With the way it's structured, our focus is on the process more than the outcome: How did a bright kid like Derek become a racist? And what turned him around?

The movie takes great pains to show how articulate the younger Derek is when he justifies his hatred of blacks by citing the statistics of black crime. (His more personal motive is that blacks murdered his father.) His arguments hit upon common politically conservative themes as he finds fault with affirmative action, glorification of criminals like Rodney King, and liberals who blame (white) society for the problems facing blacks. But Derek takes this reasoning a step further and argues that blacks have a "racial commitment to crime." Of course, by taking that step, he undermines his own arguments. For example, how does his harping about "personal responsibility" square with his belief in judging people for factors beyond their control, like their race? Responsibility requires choice. If race were the reason for black crime, then black criminals would be morally blameless. But no character points out such contradictions in Derek's views. When he debates a liberal teacher played by Elliot Gould, the gentle Gould character acts like a milquetoast, unable to provide a strong rebuttal. It's a powerful scene, and more than plausible: as in real life, people aren't always prepared with eloquent answers, even when confronted by someone with indefensible views.

Still, it's disconcerting that the film never fully addresses the "intellectual" side of his bigotry. The main impetus for Derek's change is internal: once he learns to respect himself, he starts respecting others--a nice thought, no doubt, but I'm not sure it would be a strong enough fulcrum for change in this character's racial views. Although some would assume that Derek is too intelligent to remain racist, I would assume he's too intelligent not to come up with yet more rationalizations.

There are other factors at work, too, including his treatment by white inmates and his befriending of a charming black inmate (Guy Torry). But all this seems to provide, at most, an emotional response to the earlier scenes. The movie made me realize how much the public attitude toward race has changed since the late 1960s, when optimistic films like "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" confronted racism by creating immensely likable African-American characters and ignoring any other social and cultural tensions that might pose a barrier to interracial relationships. In AHX, almost all the black characters are gang members and criminals, and there seems to be an underlying cynicism in the film's reluctance to provide a clear-cut refutation to Derek's right-wing arguments. Implicitly, the movie argues that there's a cycle of hatred going on between white and black gangs, and that the white racists aren't solely to blame for this situation. Aside from his relationship with Dr. Sweeney (Avery Brooks) and his prison friend, the basis for Derek's turnaround is largely negative: he realizes that he's no better than the black outlaws he so despises. That isn't exactly the most inspiring message about race relations.

My main reason for wanting to watch this movie in the first place was to understand better how an extremist hatemonger could change. But that turns out to be the least convincing aspect of the film. The root of the problem probably lies in the conception. The filmmakers started with the intelligent skinhead character, then they thought, "What sorts of events will lead this character to transform?" That's why the conclusion feels just a tad contrived. It's a good film, overall, but ironically where it's weak is in the very area that makes the story the most interesting.
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A Confused Film
Theo Robertson14 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
A Finnish commentator compared this film to American prison drama OZ . I love OZ , it`s my all time favourite American show , it`s compelling and brilliantly acted , adjectives you could use to describe AMERICAN HISTORY X. However while the HBO show suffers from lapses in logic there`s enough going on in different sub plots for you not to notice these flaws but seeing similar flaws in this film you can`t help but notice them

First let me point out the good aspects . As said this movie contains great performances . In real life Ed Norton reminds me of the Kevin character from HARRY ENFIELD AND CHUMS with his floppy hairstyle and his back to front baseball cap but he always gives a good performance . In this movie he gives a GREAT performance as Derek the skin head from hell . Edward Furlong also gives a GREAT performance as Derek`s younger brother Danny . Norton earned an Oscar nod but strangely Furlong seemed to miss out , a pity . Tony Kaye also shows us he had great potential as a director , and it`s one helluva shame it`s unlikely we`ll be seeing either Furlong or Kaye as big Hollywood names

***** SPOILERS *****

But it`s the script that brings the film down , and in some places it`s quite woeful . Derek kills a couple of armed home boys who turn up at his house and he`s convicted of manslaughter . I know this is a plot device but couldn`t it have been better done ? Is it possible any jury would have convicted Derek for protecting his property from armed burglers . I guess all the jurors were called Goldberg and Rubinstein ? And I`ve got to agree with everyone who don`t buy the idea of Derek making friends with a black guy inside prison even after Derek gets raped by the skin head gang , oh and how many prisons in America have a mix of one third black , one third hispanic and one third Nazi/peckerwood ? It`s unrealistic the reasons why Derek stopped being a Nazi but it`s even more unrealistic why he became one in the first place - His Father used the " N " word a few times ! Of course the real reason might have been that his Father was murdered by a black gang but if that`s the case then why include the dinner scene ? It`s just confusing . There`s also another confused dinner scene where Derek`s mother invites a Jewish teacher around the family table . Would a Jew want to share a table with a couple of Nazi teenagers ?

But the major flaw is with the ending . AMERICAN HISTORY X is a very obvious redemption plot but Danny being murdered at the end doesn`t tie in with Derek`s redemption . If Derek remained a Nazi Danny would have died , if Derek had become a flower arranger with Greenpeace Danny would have died . No matter what Derek would have done Danny would still have been murdered . When writing a redemption plot it`s essential the ending of the movie ties in with the protagonist`s road to Damascus .

AMERICAN HISTORY X possibly does deserve to be in the IMDB top 250 movies but not at number 58 . It contains great performances but also some very poor scripting especially poor character motivation . If you want to see a better , more thought provoking film concerning race hate watch ROMPER STOMPER
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A series of cliches
orlo17 April 1999
Warning: Spoilers
I found it hard to enjoy this film due to the overuse of tacky advertising techniques like slow motion (that were too slow), black and white for the flashbacks and general obvious editing and camera work - like when he has been raped in the shower and is lying on the floor. We see a close up of his Nazi Swastika (as if to hammer home the obvious point). This film tries to be poetic but doesn't succeed. After leaving the cinema, I had forgotten everything. This film doesn't even get close to a film such as The Haine, which had a much stronger build up of characters and story, and leaves a significant impact on the viewer, who can identify with the characters. They seem real. In American History X even the characters seem like cliches picked out from other films.
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Just Horrible
cadainoff21 January 2005
Possibly one of the worst movies I've ever seen. It reeks from start to finish, which is all the more painful because it was supposed to be good. Edward Norton sounds and looks more like the president of the Yale Republican Club than a white supremacist skinhead - the movies truly fatal flaw considering he's the linchpin of the whole thing. Elliot Gould as a woolly, ineffectual liberal is a stereotype, one of many in the cast.

More troubling than the acting, though, is the direction, which could charitably be called confused. How else to explain why we end up rooting for the skinheads to beat the black guys in a basketball game to determine who will stay off the public courts of Venice for good. How else to explain that the skinheads actually win? On the Venice courts, where the level of play is so high that Ron Shelton actually set his own movie there ("White Men Can't Jump")? This scene is symbolic of how completely out of touch this movie is, how it ignores basic realities to construct its own while purporting to tell the truth, and how confused its storytelling and direction are. If racism is so bad, why are the majority of the black characters so unlikable, and why do the white supremacist characters seem so much more sympathetic and their actions so much more understandable? These concerns would be mere quibbles if the movie didn't claim to be so much more than it actually is. It fails to convey its message, and it fails artistically. Everything about it just sucks.
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Weak, shambles, facile moralising.
Youngman_Grand15 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Making a movie about racism is a very easy way to tap into an audiences pre-existing righteous anger without the need to really explore the subject, treat it with respect or develop any kind of understanding around it. AHX knows this, so advances a paper thin plot with any number of ludicrous clichés, cardboard characters and dopy narrative devices. Edward Norton is no longer the Universes least convincing skinhead (stand up, Elijah Wood), but this movie stretches credibility way past breaking point.

The movie doesn't actually try to analyse racism on the more subtle, insidious way in which it exists in most peoples lives. Sure, there are neo-nazi and black power groups around, but this isn't most people's experience of racist behaviour. Only at the end of the movie do we get any hint this, when we see Dereks father discussing his pejudices over the dinner table. But this is very fleeting and it doesn't really give adequate justification for why Derek decided to go down this road in the first place. The movie should have spent far more time looking responsibly at the root causes of such peoples actions and ideologies - but that isn't as easy or as sensationalist as portraying all racists as maniacal cult-heads or separationists. The presence of characters like Stacy Keach's Manson-esquire demagogue serves the questionable purpose of allowing audience members to distance themselves entirely from these kinds of beleifs. Most people I think struggle to some degree with inherited prejudices as a result of ethnicity, class, geography, economic status etc, but films like this pander to our solipsistic view of ourselves as utterly non-judgemental by suggesting that racism only occurs amongst the lunatic fringe.

Additionally Tony Kaye more or less disowned the finished product, claiming that Edward Norton used his star clout to have the film re-edited so that it was more to his liking. The main point of contention seems to have been that Kaye felt the film should have had 'an adequate black voice'. I'm not quite sure what was exactly meant by 'adequate', but I can totally agree that the films narrow scope shifts sympathy onto the white protagonists in a confusing and dubious way. Because almost all of the black characters are so unlikeable, aggressive and one dimensional, with no context to explain their actions, and because one of them ends the film by murdering Furlongs character (a child) for pretty much no discernible reason, it's hard not to feel like we are expected to empathise with Derek and possibly feel like his original agenda was justified. AS well as this, when a 'liberal' character like Murray is portrayed as an ineffectual, idealistic fool, you begin to wonder why the film is so intent on making a violent, near-psychopathic skinhead into some kind of marginalised voice of reason.

Films that attempt to tackle the race issue in modern society will always fail to deliver as long as they are content to sit back and simply push buttons in order to generate a calculated response. The overwhelming majority of people in society know racism is a bad thing, but most ignore how endemic it is. Pinning it all on some gun totin' extremist hooligans, then not even being able to properly decide who you are sympathising with is not the mark of accomplished, mature filmmaking.
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Good but not destined to be a classic
bobarinobobalucci7 September 2004
I'm a bit bewildered by the praise heaped upon this film. Ed Norton does a good job and was just coming into his own at this point. His acting was not at the level it is today though. Furlong earned his money but did not shine in his role. Balk utterly failed to rise on this cinematic occasion and Keach showed up for the check.

The story, the underlying message and personal transformation of Norton's character should be considered the pillars of this film. I however staunchly disagree with its position at number 61 in the top 250 films. Ponder for a moment that Spartacus is over 100 films below American History X, that alone should give you pause.

It would be accurate to say that votes from the younger, more internet savvy, could be held accountable for such an imbalance. Those who felt that Eminem deserved an Oscar for 8 Mile. In both instances the story had a degree of truth and realism but Oscars are for a chosen few. I urge generation x and generation next to take more than a mere cursory look at the fellow top 250. Did Norton deliver the role with the same intensity as Brando?

"Contemplate this on the tree of woe." James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom Conan the Barbarian (1982)
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