American History X (1998) – REVIEW

by Jordache Wee

Release Date: October 23, 1998
Directed by: Tony Kaye
Music by: Anne Dudley
Starring: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo, Jennifer Lien, Ethan Suplee, Fairuza Balk, Avery Brooks, Elliott Gould, Stacy Keach, William Russ, Guy Torry, Joseph Cortese, Jason Bose Smith, Antonio David Lyons, Alex Sol, Keram Malicki-Sánchez, Giuseppe Andrews, Cleo Adell, Jonathan Fowler Jr., Christopher Masterson, Nicholas R. Oleson, Jordan Marder, Paul Le Mat 

The story tells of two brothers, Derek (Edward Norton) and Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong). One night, three black men arrived outside of their home, Danny saw one of them broke into Derek’s car. Danny enters Derek’s room to find him having sexual intercourse with his girlfriend, Stacey (Fairuza Balk), a punk girl. He told Derek about the incident.

Then, Derek arms himself with a pistol and the moment he opens the door, he shot two of the black men and then the other inside the car. He dragged the other black man and urged him to put his teeth on the curb before he uses his foot and smash his head against it. In the same time, the police arrives to arrest Derek, and he feels no regret for doing so because he is only protecting his family.

Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) arrested for manslaughter for 3 black citizens

Derek and Danny lives with their mother, Doris (Beverly D’Angelo), sister Davina (Jennifer Lien) and youngest sister Ally (Tara Blanchard) in Venice Beach, Los Angeles.

In present time, Danny Vinyard has become more alike his brother’s behavior. Both brothers are intelligent students but because Derek is like a “symbol of hope”, he has been living up to his brother’s shadow ever since Derek was imprisonment for 3 years for manslaughter.

Dr. Robert "Bob" Sweeney (Avery Brooks)

Danny was called in by Dr. Robert “Bob” Sweeney (Avery Brooks) because he wrote a research essay on Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. An essay of which he debates on Hitler as a civil rights hero. Dr. Sweeney wants him to rewrite his essay but this time the topic is about his brother. Danny has no other choice but to agree.

Before, Derek went to prison, he is Venice Beach’s leader of neo-Nazi clan. He was a protégé under the tutelage of Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach). Cameron was the one who influenced Derek to be a white supremacist. Thus, the clan continues to grow by the numbers. Derek’s hatred towards races comes after his father’s death. His father, Dennis Vinyard is a fireman, who was shot dead by a black drug dealer in the neighborhood for putting out a fire. He claims that it was the color people who killed his father and all the other immigrants who came living in the neighborhood is an eye sore.

Seth Ryan (Ethan Suplee) works as pest killer by day

Soon, Derek has been released from prison. He seems to be a changed man. He no longer shaves his head bald and rather keep his hair. He was welcomed by his mother and sister. When Derek arrives home, his brother Danny was excited to see him.  Then, Seth Ryan (Ethan Suplee) came to the house causing a commotion and disrespecting the Vinyard’s mother.

Derek enters his room and received a call from Dr. Sweeney on his brother’s truancy and research essay. After the conversation, he questions his brother on the essay. Danny argues with him that Derek has changed since he enters prison while Seth keeps on interrupting. Derek advices his brother to stop smoking in the house because Doris is not feeling well.

Later that night at a neo-Nazi party which Derek and Danny are both attending (despite the fact that Derek made Danny promise he wouldn’t go), Derek confronts Cameron Alexander, that he will no longer associate with him and the gang and tells him to “Stay away from him and Danny” at which point Cameron provokes and insults Derek who beats him up and knocks him unconscious before leaving his office.

During an ensuing confrontation, Derek’s overweight neo-Nazi friend Seth Ryan (Ethan Suplee) runs after Derek and aims a pistol at him, which Derek wrestles from him, and points it at the angry crowd before running away from the party. Danny angrily confronts Derek, who tells him about his time and transformation in prison. The confession seems to prompt a change in Danny.

Derek explains to his brother about his prison stories

That same night, Derek tells his prison story to Danny that hhe joins the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. After about a year, he becomes disillusioned with the gang, especially over the group’s friendly dealings with a Mexican prison gang member, and their trafficking in narcotics. When he voices these opinions, he is first ignored and then reprimanded by the other white supremacists. Derek also develops a friendly rapport with black prison inmate, Lamont (Guy Torry), who works with him in the prison laundry. His fellow neo-Nazis take notice of this and savagely sodomizing him in the shower.

While still recovering from the attack with six stitches, Derek is visited by his old English teacher Dr. Sweeney, whom he asks for help to be paroled. Dr. Sweeney also informs him of Danny’s aspiration to become a neo-Nazi like Derek. Dr. Sweeney asserts that Derek has spent his life pursuing answers, and then asks: “Has anything you’ve done made your life better?”

Setting a turning point for Derek, who further distances himself from the Aryan Brotherhood and changes his outlook on life. Lamont emerges as Derek’s only true friend in prison, and is part of the reason Derek stays alive as he uses what influence he has to stop the black prisoners from hurting Derek.

Derek advising Danny to be careful at school

The following morning Danny finishes his paper, and Derek gets ready for a meeting with his parole officer. Derek walks Danny to school before his meeting, and on their way they stop at a café where they are met by Dr. Sweeney and a police officer. They tell Derek that Cameron and Seth were attacked the previous night and have been hospitalized. Derek claims no knowledge of the incidents, yet they ask him for help. Derek reluctantly agrees.

At school, after Danny uses the urinal in the bathroom, he is confronted by a young black student with whom he had a confrontation the previous day. The student shoots Danny in the heart multiple times. When Derek arrives, he rushes to the bathroom and tearfully cradles his dead brother in his arms.

The film ends with Danny narrating part of his paper, in which he quotes the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Reviewer’s Note:
American History X is a topic essay given by Dr. Sweeney to Danny Vinyard to write a semi-biography on his brother, Derek. The film focuses on the events on how Derek becomes involve with becoming a white supremacist and creating a neo-Nazi in California under the guidance of a writer, Cameron Alexander. The film shows how Danny too become part of his brother’s footsteps.

Derek becomes a symbol to eradicate or should i say cleanse the neighborhood from the other races. He sees them as parasites stealing the American Dream.

American History X is hella skinhead neon-Nazi story! Smashing and exploding theories. Neo-Nazis are the modern day Ku Klux Klan. But they also despises Asian and Hispanic races, claiming themselves as ancestors of the superior race – Aryan brotherhood.

Edward Norton delivers an eloquent character which is so rich and mesmerizing while Edward Furlong who play Danny, narrates the story of his brother lives has been impressing.

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