American History X * Tony Kaye * 1998

I had wanted to see this film for some time, but it took a while because it didn’t really have much ‘priority’. Eventually I did see it.

As most of you probably know, this film is about a family with a skinhead oldest son (Derek) with heavy influence on his younger brother (Danny). Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) is a very intelligent boy who developes very rascistic ideas under influence of his father who is a a firefighter. When his father got shot during work, Derek flips out and becomes a skinhead. Under presure of a man named Alexander Cameron (Stacy Keach) Derek starts a skinhead gang as he as charismatic intelligencer gets a group of “frustrated and impressionable kids” together. The group developes a liking for nazi symbology and the rooms of the kids and the tattoos they get are in that very vein.
Somewhere in the film, the younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) tells his older brother something after there was a big fight on the table with the new friend of the mother. Derek shoots and kills the black man who either shot his father (or Derek accuses him of that) or who tried to shoot Derek himself, I didn’t really get that. Anyway, Derek is immediately arrested and has to spend three years in jail where he undergoes a 180 degree change.
The film is told in flashbacks from the time on that Danny wrote an essay about “Mein Kampf” on the day that Derek is released from jail. The flashbacks are in black and white, the ‘normal’ scenes in colour. Danny gets a choice from the charismatic, black principal (Sweeny (Avery Brooks)) of his school: either getting kicked off school or write an essay about how his brother ended up in jail. What Danny didn’t know was that Sweeny and Derek had met several times in jail and that Derek had turned around in ideology.
What Derek didn’t know was that he reached some kind of cult-status while being in jail for what he has done. Getting out he tries to ‘save’ his brother, himself and his family.

The film depicts things totally black and white. In the suburbs where the Vinyards live are black gangs and white gangs, the white gangs seem to be all skinheads. Also in jail the white men are full of tattoos of swasticas and without hair. On the other hand, the film does show quite well how youngsters get these ideas, they are “frustrated and impressionable” and they need only one person with a quick tongue to tell them what to think and to do.
The film is too moralising and there is a way too thick sauce of over-emotional finger-pointing over it. What is rather ‘unamerican’ is that there is no happy end and the end is even open.

All in all a not too great film, but rather amusing.

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