American History X Reviews
The film's backbone is unquestionably Edward Norton's performance as Derek Vinyard, a despicable and morally repugnant neo-Nazi who undergoes a believably human transformation. His unflinching and versatile performance gives credence to every line of dialogue and every action in every scene, which elevates all the performances in the film's supporting cast. As a result, I bought Vinyard's history and every interaction he has with his family, particularly his relationship with his younger brother. I firmly believe Norton's performance is so outstanding that it is among the five greatest performances of all-time.
However, Norton's performance would not have been nearly as impactful if Tony Kaye's storytelling felt like a structured narrative. Though it is not nearly as experiential as Moonlight, I became emotionally attached to the characters because I concurrently bought them as people and the complicated world they all inhabited. Whomever accuses the film of being preachy or heavy-handed is simply not recognizing that its message organically arises vicariously through its characters during their transformations, particularly the Vinyard brothers. Last, but not least, I absolutely love that there is a particular line of dialogue that suggest Derek has not gone completely to the other side of the moral spectrum, which highlights the time and understanding it takes to ultimately get there.
Last, but not least, I love that Tony Kaye chose to tint the flashback sequences black-and-white and the present sequences in color. The gimmick works tremendously because not only does it clearly illustrate what happens in the past and present, but it also illustrates how all the characters look at racism in those moments in time. Contrary to popular belief, race is unquestionably the most complicated issue that has plagued human history, yet we, especially Americans, continually try to categorically break it down into good and bad and/or right and wrong.
As much as I love this film, I have a few quibbles with it. First, there are a couple scenes that have unnecessary exposition, both dialogue and voiceover. Second, there are a few times when Kaye uses a medium close-up instead of a regular close-up to show a character's reaction, though I understand why he chose to do so. Last, there is one scene where the rhetoric could have been toned down to dramatically play up the rhetoric's impact on a certain character.
Overall, this is an emotionally riveting film that tactfully dissects race and explores how hatred undermines and eventually destroys understanding on an interpersonal, a familial and a societal level. Most importantly, it demonstrates how anyone, no matter how racially insensitive, can redeem themselves from those harmful beliefs by simply exposing themselves to different people in different cultures in an open-minded effort to understand those people and their cultural backgrounds.
This film reminded me to not give up on Donald Trump and his ardent supporters because if we give up on them, then they will have no desire to change, which will only make the world a harsher and more violent place to live.