We see a short-haired chick riding a tattooed, shaven-headed guy on a background of screams and moaning as the movie begins, and a guy in sweatpants barging in- “There’s a black guy outside. He’s breaking into you car”. Twenty seconds later we see three black folks grasping for life as they’re tumbling towards kingdom come. Then the police pop up and take Derek (Edward Norton) away as Derek’s little brother Danny (Edward Furlong) takes in, transfixed, the whole nightmarish scene.
American History X is as disturbing and stirring a movie as they come and grips you irrevocably straight from the get-go. It is a poignant and harrowing story that gets to you, stays with you and changes you. It tells the story of Derek Vinyard- a sharp-as-a-tack high schooler who, sent round the bent by the death of his father, walks down the wrong street- the street of racial hatred and violence. Though we see later on that Derek’s transformation began before his father’s death, this is the one pivotal moment that marks his metamorphosis as he gets it into his head that his father was killed on racial grounds. Beside himself with rage, he casts about for an outlet to give vent to his negative, pent-up emotions. He finds it too when he starts running around with Cameron Alexander, his mentor in hate and everything racist, who knows exactly how to put his talents to good use and along with whom he swiftly builds a numerous group of neo-nazi skinheads big on heavy metal and alcohol. They’re all weak individuals craving for the power of unity. Derek’s words (as repeated later by his brother) encapsulate the idea lying at the root of the gang: “white kids shouldn’t have to walk around scared in their own neighborhood”. As to the time in, it proves to be his road to Damascus and Derek comes out bent on mending his ways and cut ties with the dismal past. But all the while Danny’s been heading for the same fall Derek had, which means he has to get him him out too.
One really interesting facet of the flick is present events (the day of Derek’s release) are color and flashbacks are filmed in black and white, which really tickled my fancy. Edward Norton provides us with what is arguably his best performance ever and a good many scenes to watch over and over. The story isn’t however flawless and has its fair share of chinks in the armor. Certain parts give the impression of needing more fleshing out to better understand what underlies Derek’s motivations as well as his regeneration. We see him waging a bigoted jihad against border jumpers and niggers but we see a trifle too little of the experiences leading him there.This isn’t something to make a meal out of though. If anything, the movie leaves a bit to the imagination as well and as much as certain patches seem to be lacking in terms of emphasis, you’ll be too busy biting your nails to notice. On a different note, the memorable set of characters make for a couple of haunting, indelible and most rewatchable scenes- the border stomp, the basketball match, the dinner fight, the prison scenes and a good many others.
Now,I have to say- I can’t but be subjective when it comes to American History X and I know It may not be a perfect movie, but we can’t choose who we fall in love with, can we?
“If you come near Danny again, I will feed you your fucking heart, Cameron. “