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American X Review

American X - Review

American History X'' shows how two Los Angeles brothers are drawn into a neo-Nazi skinhead gang, and why one decides to free himself. In telling their stories, the film employs the language of racism--the gutter variety and more sophisticated variations. The film is always interesting and sometimes compelling, and it contains more actual provocative thought than any American film on race since ``Do the Right Thing.'' But in trying to resolve the events of four years in one day, it leaves its shortcuts showing.

The film stars Edward Norton as Derek, a bright kid who has become the leader of a skinhead pack in Venice Beach, Calif.; he's the lieutenant of a shadowy adult neo-Nazi (Stacy Keach). One night two black kids attempt to steal Derek's car, as the result of a playground feud, and he shoots them dead. He's convicted of murder and sent to prison for three years.

His kid brother Danny (Edward Furlong) idolizes him, and to some degree steps into his shoes--although he lacks Derek's intelligence and gift for rabble-rousing rhetoric. Then Derek gets out of prison and tries to find a new direction for himself and Danny. Their backdrop is a family that consists of a chronically sick mother (Beverly D'Angelo) and two sisters. Their father, a fireman, was shot and killed by black addicts while fighting a fire in a crack house in a black neighborhood.

On a TV news show, the grief-stricken Derek blames his father's death on a laundry list of far-right targets. Later we learn it wasn't just his father's death that shaped him, but his father's dinner table conversation; his father tutors him in racism, but the scene feels like tacked-on motivation, and the movie never convincingly charts Derek's path to race hatred.

The scariest and most convincing scenes are the ones in which we see the skinheads bonding. They're led by Derek's brilliant speechmaking and fueled by drugs, beer, tattoos, heavy metal and the need all insecure people feel to belong to a movement greater than themselves. It is assumed in their world (the beaches and playgrounds of the Venice area of L.A.) that all races stick together and are at undeclared war with all others.

Indeed the race hatred of the skinheads is mirrored (with different words and haircuts) by the other local ethnic groups. Hostile tribalism is an epidemic here.

The film, written...

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Category:   Film

Length:   4 pages (933 words)

Views:   15123

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