American History X
|American History X|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Tony Kaye|
|Produced by||John Morrissey|
|Written by||David McKenna|
|Music by||Anne Dudley|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$23.9 million|
American History X is a 1998 American crime drama film directed by Tony Kaye and written by David McKenna. It stars Edward Norton and Edward Furlong, and features Fairuza Balk, Stacy Keach, Elliott Gould, Avery Brooks, Ethan Suplee, and Beverly D'Angelo. The film was released in the United States on October 30, 1998, and was distributed by New Line Cinema.
The film tells the story of two brothers from Venice, Los Angeles who become involved in the neo-Nazi movement. The older brother serves three years in prison for voluntary manslaughter, changes his beliefs and tries to prevent his brother from going down the same path. The film is told in the style of nonlinear narrative. Made on a budget of $20 million, the film grossed $24 million at the worldwide box office.
Critics mostly praised the film and Norton's performance, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. In September 2008, Empire magazine named it the 311th-greatest movie of all time.
High school student Danny Vinyard receives an assignment from his history teacher Mr. Murray to write a paper on "any book which relates to the struggle for human rights." Knowing Murray is Jewish, Danny writes his paper on Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Murray attempts to get Danny expelled for doing this, but African-American Principal Dr. Bob Sweeney refuses, instead informing Danny that he will study history and current events under Sweeney, and that the class will be called American History X. Danny's first assignment is to prepare a paper on his brother Derek, a former neo-Nazi leader.
A few years earlier, Danny and Derek's father, Dennis Vinyard, was murdered by black drug dealers after being sent on a call to fight a fire in a drug den. In a television interview conducted after Dennis's death, Derek erupts in a long racist tirade. Shortly thereafter, Cameron Alexander and Derek form a white supremacist gang called the Disciples of Christ (D.O.C.). As a skilled basketball player, Derek is reluctantly dragged into a 3-on-3 game against several members of the Crips in which the prize is control of the recreation center basketball courts. After winning with his friends, Derek leads a large gang of skinheads to attack a supermarket owned by a Korean that included African-American and Latino workers. Derek's mother Doris invites Murray, whom she is dating, home for dinner, which turns into a full-blown argument between Derek and Murray, with Derek assaulting Davina, Murray leaving, and Doris kicking Derek out. That night, as Danny hears people attempting to steal Derek's truck, Derek shoots and kills one of the thieves and curb stomps another, before being arrested. He is sentenced to three years in the California Institution for Men for voluntary manslaughter.
Derek is given a job in the prison laundry and assigned to be the partner of Lamont, a black man who is serving six years for robbery and assaulting a police officer, although Lamont strongly implies that the latter was a trumped-up charge. At first, Derek is silent and standoffish to Lamont, wanting nothing to do with a black man. The pair later develop a rapport over their shared love of basketball. Derek joins the Aryan Brotherhood, and is respected for what he did on the outside. But after about a year, he becomes disillusioned after learning the politics of prison gangs. Derek strongly believed in what he was doing, but the rest of the gang always had dealings with other gangs of different races. After publicly turning his back on them, he is punished by being beaten and raped in the shower by the Aryan Brotherhood members.
Derek recovers and is visited by Sweeney, whom he asks for help to be paroled. Sweeney informs him of Danny's involvement with neo-Nazis, and warns that he is on the same path as Derek. Derek further distances himself from the Aryan Brotherhood and spends the remainder of his time in prison alone, reading books that Sweeney sends him. Finally realizing the error of his ways, Derek leaves prison a changed man. Upon arriving home, he finds that Danny has a D.O.C. tattoo and tries to persuade him to leave the gang. They subsequently go to a neo-Nazi party (with Danny sneaking in against Derek's wishes), where Derek tells Cameron that he and Danny will no longer associate with the movement; that he now sees Cameron for what he is: a chicken hawk that preys on vulnerable youths to do his bidding, all the while escaping accountability for the messes that he helps to create. This causes Cameron, Derek's girlfriend Stacey, and all the other neo-Nazis to turn on him. Derek assaults Cameron after the latter insists that he won't let Danny get away from his influence, and thus he is held at gunpoint by Seth. Derek disarms him and flees the party. Afterwards, Derek tells Danny about his experience in prison, which seems to prompt a change in Danny.
The next morning, Danny finishes his paper, which reflects on why he had adopted Nazi values and why they were deeply flawed. He also notes that while many may think that Derek's racist views may have come from anger over his father's death, that Danny knows that the seed for such was planted years earlier. While his father was alive, Derek would listen to him make overtly racist rants about subjects such as affirmative action and use racial epithets at the dinner table. His father's death was the catalyst that caused all of his anger to be misdirected by his misguided racist beliefs. Derek walks Danny to school. On their way they stop at a diner. Sweeney and a police officer tell Derek that his friend Seth and Cameron were attacked the previous night. At school, Danny is ambushed and killed in the bathroom by a young black student named Little Henry, whom he had a confrontation with the previous day. Derek arrives at the school and mourns for Danny.
- Edward Norton as Derek Vinyard
- Edward Furlong as Danny Vinyard
- Beverly D'Angelo as Doris Vinyard
- Jennifer Lien as Davina Vinyard
- Ethan Suplee as Seth Ryan
- Fairuza Balk as Stacey
- Avery Brooks as Dr. Bob Sweeney
- Elliott Gould as Murray
- Stacy Keach as Cameron Alexander
- William Russ as Dennis Vinyard
- Guy Torry as Lamont
- Joseph Cortese as Rasmussen
- Antonio David Lyons as Lawrence
- Keram Malicki-Sánchez as Chris
- Giuseppe Andrews as Jason
- Christopher Masterson as Daryl Dawson
- Paul Le Mat as McMahon
Shooting took place in Los Angeles, California. With some suggestions from New Line, director Tony Kaye made a second heavily shortened cut, which New Line rejected as it bore little resemblance to the first. Film editor Jerry Greenberg was brought in to cut a third version with Edward Norton. Kaye disowned the third version of the film and tried and failed to have his name removed from the credits, openly telling some interviewers he tried to invoke the Alan Smithee pseudonym which the Directors Guild of America used to reserve for such cases. When his request was denied, Kaye tried "Humpty Dumpty" as an alternative name.
Release and reception
American History X was released on October 30, 1998, and grossed $156,076 in seventeen theaters during its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $6,719,864 from 513 theaters in the United States, and a total of $23,875,127 worldwide.
The film received positive reviews upon release with many critics directing particular praise towards Edward Norton's performance. Based on the reviews of 82 critics collected on Rotten Tomatoes, 83% of critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 7.3/10; the website's consensus reads: "A compelling and provocative story led by an excellent performance by Edward Norton." By comparison, on Metacritic, the film holds a 62/100 average rating based on 32 reviews of top mainstream critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, awarding American History X four stars out of four, described it as "a shockingly powerful screed against racism that also manages to be so well performed and directed that it is entertaining as well" and stated that it was "also effective at demonstrating how hate is taught from one generation to another." Siskel singled out Norton's performance and called him "the immediate front-runner" for an Oscar. Todd McCarthy, writing for Variety, gave the film a positive review stating, "This jolting, superbly acted film will draw serious-minded upscale viewers interested in cutting-edge fare." He gave special praise to Norton's performance, saying "His Derek mesmerizes even as he repels, and the actor fully exposes the human being behind the tough poses and attitudinizing." The New York Times's Janet Maslin wrote, "Though its story elements are all too easily reduced to a simple outline, American History X has enough fiery acting and provocative bombast to make its impact felt. For one thing, its willingness to take on ugly political realities gives it a substantial raison d'être. For another, it has been directed with a mixture of handsome photo-realism and visceral punch." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four, stating that it was "always interesting and sometimes compelling, and it contains more actual provocative thought than any American film on race since Do the Right Thing." He was critical though of the film's underdeveloped areas, stating that "the movie never convincingly charts Derek's path to race hatred" and noting that "in trying to resolve the events of four years in one day, it leaves its shortcuts showing". Nevertheless, Ebert concluded, "This is a good and powerful film. If I am dissatisfied, it is because it contains the promise of being more than it is."
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle expressed disappointment at the film, though he did praise Norton's performance as Derek, commenting that he "is perfect for the role". LaSalle felt that while the film succeeded in portraying Derek's descent into neo-Nazism, it failed to portray his renouncement of his past beliefs: "We had to watch him think his way in. We should see him think his way out." LaSalle also noted other problems: "In some places the dialogue is surprisingly stilted. Far worse, the ending is a misfire." Firearms enthusiast Stephen Hunter, writing for The Washington Post, was highly critical of the film and gave it a negative review, calling it "an old melodramatic formula hidden under pretentious TV-commercial-slick photography".
Awards and honors
Norton's performance was ranked by Total Film as the 72nd-greatest film performance of all time. Norton's Academy Award loss was also included on Empire's list of "22 Incredibly Shocking Oscars Injustices".
|Award||Category||Recipient(s) and nominee(s)||Result||Ref.|
|Academy Awards||Best Actor||Edward Norton||Nominated|||
|Chicago Film Critics Association Awards||Best Actor||Edward Norton||Nominated|||
|Golden Reel Awards||Best Sound Editing: Music Score in a Feature Film||Richard Ford||Nominated|||
|Golden Satellite Awards||Best Original Screenplay||David McKenna||Nominated|||
|Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama||Edward Norton||Won|
|Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Drama||Beverly D'Angelo||Nominated|
|Online Film Critics Society Awards||Best Actor||Edward Norton||Nominated|||
|Political Film Society Awards||Peace||—||Nominated|||
|Saturn Awards||Best Actor||Edward Norton||Nominated|||
|Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards||Best Actor||Edward Norton||Won|||
|Taormina International Film Festival||Best Actor||Edward Norton||Won|||
|Youth in Film Awards||Best Supporting Young Actor in a Feature Film||Edward Furlong||Nominated|||
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- "American History X (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
- "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire Magazine. March 24, 2012. Retrieved March 24, 2012.
- "American History X Filming Locations". Movie Locations Guide. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
- McCarthy, Todd (October 22, 1998). "American History X". Variety. Archived from the original on July 23, 2009. Retrieved July 23, 2009.
It is possible that some otherwise well-disposed critics may restrain their praise, even unwittingly, in knee-jerk sympathy with director Kaye, who disowns this cut and lost his bid to take his name off the picture.
- Kaye, Tony (October 25, 2002). "Losing it". The Guardian. Retrieved March 20, 2009.
- "Great roles actors have turned down". Yahoo! Movies. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
- "American History X". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 23, 2009.
- "American History X Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- Siskel, Gene (October 30, 1998). "A Shocking Film About Racial Hate". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- McCarthy, Todd (October 22, 1998). "American History X". Variety. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- Maslin, Janet (October 28, 1998). "'American History X': The Darkest Chambers of a Nation's Soul". The New York Times. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- Ebert, Roger (October 30, 1998). "American History X". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- LaSalle, Mick (October 30, 1998). "Neo-Nazi With a Conscience / Norton shines, but `History' disappoints". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- Hunter, Stephen (October 30, 1998). "'American History X'". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- Total Film (December 11, 2008). "150 Greatest Movie Performances of All Time". Total Film. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
- De Semlyen, Phil (February 27, 2014). "22 Incredibly Shocking Oscars Injustices". Empire. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
- "71st Academy Awards Winners". Academy Awards. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- Tribune staff (January 19, 1999). "Chicago Film Critics Name Their Favorites". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- J. Olson, Eric (February 22, 1999). "Sound editors shout Golden Reel noms". Variety. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- "1999 Awards". International Press Academy. Archived from the original on February 11, 2001. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- "1998 Awards (2nd Annual)". Online Film Critics Society. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- "Previous Award Winners". Political Film Society. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- J. Olson, Eric (March 8, 1999). "Out of this world". Variety. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- "1998 SEFCA Best Films of the Year". Southeastern Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on June 13, 2004. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- Rooney, David (August 3, 1999). "U.S. pix help revive Italy's Taormina fest". Variety. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- "20th Annual Awards". Young Artist Award. Archived from the original on November 28, 2016. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-13.
- "American History X [VHS]". Amazon.com. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- Joshua Klein (4 April 2002). "American History X". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- "American History X". Amazon.com. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- "American History X Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- Frauley, Jon (2010). "Subculture and American History X". Criminology, Deviance, and the Silver Screen: The Fictional Reality and the Criminological Imagination. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-61516-8.
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