Returning to top 1000 greatest films of all time, we have number 37 on the list: Tony Kaye’s 1998 American History X.
Edward Norton plays Derek Vinyard, a prominent Neo-Nazi and leader of a white supremacist movement. He is sent to jail for three years for killing three black men. After he is released he desperately tries to stop his brother, Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong) from following in his footsteps.
Any film that engages with issues as sensitive as racism and white nationalism need to go hard or go home. This film most definitely goes hard. It is unrelenting an brutal in its depiction of racisms. One of the film’s most shocking, powerful and best scenes sees Derek leading his white supremacist group to trash a supermarket owned by a Korean man and staffed by members of ethnic minorities who are then beaten and tortured by the neo-nazis. Another equally powerful scene sees Derek and his family having dinner where the conversation turns towards Rodney King and how he was beaten by the police.
Derek argues that the American public only took King’s side because the police stopped him, before he could hurt anyone. If King’s drunken, reckless driving had hurt anyone, then everyone would be singing a different tune. This made me think of the issue of racial profiling and police brutality ad how if a black police officer shoots a white man then nobody panics, but if it’s the other way around, then everyone just loses their minds. Just think of Michael Brown or Eric Garner. These scenes were particularly powerful, due to how they so unrelentingly and unashamedly depicted the extremes that some groups go to.
Edward Norton was brilliant He was utterly convincing in his role of the Neo-Nazi, racist skinhead, Derek Vinyard. I also like how the film didn’t romanticism him or the Neo-Nazi movement. It is obvious that the Neo-Nazis are bad people and the film does nothing to disguise it. Rather it allows the audience to make up their own minds.
I really liked the film’s visual style too. The present-day timeline was interspersed with black and white flashbacks of Derek Vinyard’s past. The use of the monochrome filter gave the film a great grainy texture and old-timey feel.
The film’s ending was very appropriate. After it seems that Derek has convinced Danny to stay away from Neo-Nazism, Danny is shot dead by a black man, whom he had an earlier confrontation with. This ending was suitable, as it showcased the important message of how racism can always come full circle.
There are a couple of minor characters who whilst are quite important to the plot are not given proper endings. This annoyed me, as they were given strong introductions but were quickly forgotten about. I also didn’t like think Edward Furlong was anything special, He certainly wasn’t on the same level as Edward Norton.
A near perfect depiction of racism and white nationalism in America. It is brutal, hard-hitting and doesn’t let up for a minute. American History X really is a shocking portrayl of racism and white nationalism in America.