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AMERICAN HISTORY X

SYNOPSIS:
Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) is one of the most fervent members of the Venice Beach White Supremacist movement, the disciple of Cameron (Stacy Keach). Derek's followers include his younger brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), who worships him; his girlfriend, Stacey (Fairuza Balk), who thoughtlessly parrots his words; and Seth (Ethan Suplee), who finds strength in a group. Derek's mother, Doris (Beverly D'Angelo), and sister, Davin (Jennifer Lien), are frightened of and for Derek. One fateful night, Derek uses deadly force to stop a pair of black youths from stealing his car. He ends up in prison for three years, and, while on the inside, learns some hard truths about life from a fellow inmate (Guy Torry) and from the principal of his old high school (Avery Brooks), who takes a special interest in him. But when Derek emerges with a desire to change attitudes, he finds that words are not enough.

"It would be fair to say that in mainstream American cinema, risks are few and far between, originality is discouraged and audiences are presented with a safe view of contemporary society. Then along comes American History X to restore one's faith in the audacity of American film. Tony Kaye is an extraordinary talent, a brilliant craftsman and cinematographer - and a brave storyteller. American History X is not a preachy film about the evils of racism; it tells of the influence of hatred on the fabric of family unity. What is it that makes someone so "pissed off" at the world around them, that they're prepared to murder, loot and spew racist propaganda in the name of a shallow cause? This is a film about one man's journey of inner turmoil, and what it takes to realise that by sprouting venom to a world you misunderstand, your own life does not become easier. It's a potent message, told in this film with remarkable power and visual fluidity. It's an uncompromising, unsettling film, with passages of extreme violence, counterbalanced by central character Derek Vinyard's quiet road to redemption. Kaye has elicited some memorable performances, not the least from Edward Norton. He dominates the frame as few actors do, and gives an honest, complex performance that is one of the most exciting pieces of screen acting from an American actor in years. As his confused, adolescent brother, Edward Furlong shines, and as the head of a neo-Nazi outfit, Stacy Keach is chillingly unforgettable."
Paul Fischer

"It begins with seashore scenes in black and white, accompanied by lyrical, haunting horns, occasionally interrupted by aggressive timpanni. The waves washing ashore are clearly symbolic for Tony Kaye, who not only directs this mesmerising film but also photographs it. Exquisitely. He closes the film with different seashore shots, equally memorable and equally filled with emotional touchstones. Between these scenes is a film of vigour, intensity and irresistible power, defying the predictable and blatantly editorial. This is an essay by Kaye on the futility and destructive power of racial hatred. But first and foremost, it is superb cinema, drawing us into a world peopled by our very neighbours. Their exactidue is almost tangible, through sublime performances that zing with energy and emotion. Kaye is a natural filmmaker, his images ever fresh (even the prison scenes, a much visited terrain for American film, give us images we haven’t seen before) and his dramatic sense razor sharp, constructing an experience woven together with all the tools at his disposal. His camera lingers close to the faces, hence close to the hearts and souls of these tragic people, showing us the complexity within. The Edwards Norton and Furlong exceed all expectations as suburban brothers with a dreadful legacy from their late father, adding great depth to an already profound, scalpel-like script. What a fabulous debut for Kaye: see it."
Andrew L. Urban

"A haunting trumpet solo showcased by percussive punctuation moans under images of a serene tide, gently rippling along a beach, gulls above. The plaintive musical sounds evolve into choral arrangements with angelic a cappella voices echoing an etherial quality. And so begins the tumultuous journey of American History X, a mesmerising film whose topics and themes sear scorchingly through the superficial. Tony Kaye's remarkable debut film that explores extremism, racism, hatred and the journey to salvation, is an artistic triumph, marrying contrasting images, textures and sounds to tell a story where anger is a necessary accessory for survival. Kaye's treatment and superb cinematography favouring tight and effective close ups, is affecting and powerful. His is a talent to watch. Images of water droplets from the shower are one moment bullets of doom, and confetti of hope the next. The script is concise and perceptive, the performances arresting. Norton and Furlong are both outstanding; Norton radiates rage, power, conviction and truth in a steely, stalwart performance, while Furlong is haunting as the impressionable young man who aspires to follow his idolised brother. American History X is powerful cinema with moody, effective use of black and white photography. We experience rage at its most violent, and witness the personal tragedy of a family whose life is out of control. There are some scenes that are frankly hard to take. But through the maze of ugliness and destruction come some very special moments – the unusual friendship between a white and a black man cemented as they fold underwear in prison is wondrous. Through the harshness, American History X has a poetic element that elevates it to an extraordinary work with something important to say."
Louise Keller

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

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TRAILER

TRAILER

AMERICAN HISTORYX (MA)
(US, 1998)

CAST: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo, Jennifer Lien, Ethan Suplee, Avery Brooks, Stacy Keach, Fairuza Balk, Elliot Gould, Guy Torry, William Russ

DIRECTOR: Tony Kaye

PRODUCER: John Morrissey

SCRIPT: David McKenna

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tony Kaye

EDITORS: Jerry Greenberg, Alan Heim ACE

MUSIC: Anne Dudley

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jon Gary Steele

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 6, 1999

VIDEO RELEASE: December 7, 1999

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment







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