American History X
***.4 GM
Starring: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo, Fairuza Balk, Avery Brooks, Stacy Keach


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Up until this film, I had thought Edward Norton was kind of a weasel guy. I'd seen "The People Vs. Larry Flynt" and the end of "Primal Fear," and I'd gotten a strong weasel vibe from him. I never would have pictured him to play a muscle-bound, venomous white supremacist with frighteningly murderous tendencies, but he convinced me. With authority.

Norton plays Derek, a man who has fallen into a swirling cesspool of hatred and violence after losing his father and watching his old neighborhood become more and more populated with people that didn't share his skin color. This path leads him to assault, robbery, and into a gruesome double murder that lands him in prison for three years. With the help of a brutal gang rape and a former high school teacher of his (Avery Brooks), Derek manages to rethink his life and reforms. Hopefully, it's in time to save his brother Danny (Edward Furlong) from following his same path into the clutches of the shady manipulator Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach), and to keep his family from falling apart.

There were a couple of things that didn't quite fit - like how a destitute family huddled together in an apartment can afford a computer for their kid. All in all, however, this is a very stirring story that shows how seething hatreds can be justified in the minds of racists by using rational-sounding arguments based on very precarious reasoning. String a few sentences together without using a racial slur, argue your points using your outside voice and look like you want to kill your debate opponent and, voila, you are the most intelligent person in the room and you'll rip the head off of anyone who says different. You can see how hard it is to dissuade these people from their chosen causes.

One of the few things that can reach a person this far gone, though, is the strength of the family bond. It's never a guarantee, as evidenced by their sister's inability to make a dent in their ideology, but as a guy who has had a few life-altering conversations with his brother and best friends, I can definitely understand how Derek's outpouring of his prison experience to Danny can affect him as much as it does. The big problem here is that most of these Nazi types don't have an older brother they trust that can convince them all their beliefs are wrong. Most likely, it's an entire family full of bigots marching to the deranged beat of a off-kilter drum set that's telling them that differences in color, nationality and upbringing are something to be ashamed of and apologetic for. If anyone impudently attempt to see it differently, they must be beaten down in order to "preserve the white race." I don't think a long-lost uncle will make any difference here. Let's hope he's at least willing to try.

Aside from the occasionally frustrating staccato delivery of Avery Brooks and a relatively pointless opening sex scene, American History X is very much worth seeing. It's a rare look into the minds of those that would seek to rid the world of all that is different and the fanaticism that this sort of rallying cry can instill in the hearts of the directionless, lonely souls of the world. Even the demons of humanity are human, and they still just want to belong somewhere…

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