American History X (1998)

Rating: 18
Length: 1h 59
Release: 26.3.1998
Dir: Tony Kaye
About: Derek, who has served three years in prison for a hate crime, tries to change the thoughts of his brother, Danny, who is following the same path.

The Good

  • It covered a rather contentious topic in an open way. I don’t think anyone, not even Principle Sweeny, is painted in a perfect light. There is no one to hold up as a hero, no one who hasn’t made a mistake. The commentary isn’t about being on a named side, but about deciding for yourself what is right and wrong. On that note, it is a refreshing change to not see the influence of religious within the narrative and in the prison in particular.
  • The cast is incredible. I’m so so glad Keeping the Faith was my first Edward Norton movie. It is a narrative that moves around the timeline, but even without the visual cues, you would be able to see where it was by Norton’s performance.
  • Avery Brooks was a welcome addition to the cast. Known to me as Commander Sisko in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, this was a role that fit him well. His presence in the film as a mentor and a consultant with the police is one that joins the bits together. I think he gets the right amount of screen time, but his performance does make me wish he’d managed to venture a little more into film.
  • This film surprised me. I felt like I knew where it was going but there were a few times in which I gained new information that I wasn’t expected. One actually is present in the trailer but plays as almost a final act reveal in the movie. Having not seen the trailer, I do feel it has more impact as a reveal. It certainly felt a bit like a gut punch it me.

The Bad

  • The relationship Derek builds with Lamont is incredible and so very powerful. It’s actually my favourite part of the film as for me, its that interaction that it the true cause of Derek’s shift and acceptance of Sweeny’s help and support. However, there is one interaction between the two that I just wish the film had honed in on and just confirmed that Derek understood. That is the explanation of what it was Lamont did to get put in prison.
    Perhaps it’s me seeing it through the social movement of 2020 and perhaps the intention was to have the statement be left with doubt. I should just be satisfied that I believe what he said.
  • There is some gruesome elements to this film. Some bits may even turn your stomach. However, I would argue that nothing is gratuitous. It’s there for the purpose of revulsion and at no point does it glorify the violence.

The Ugly

  • There are some slow-mo shots throughout the film, that are mainly contained to the black and white sequences that I remind me of an arthouse aesthetic. For example, two of the three times Norton’s Derek is seen in the shower, the camera puts him in profile and focuses on the water. It doesn’t do anything for me other than remind me I’m watching a movie.
  • In the same sense I’m not too happy about the music, particularly in the black and white sequences. It feels a little heavy handed and, well, loud. I can’t think of another way to describe it. Not in terms of volume, but presence. Music should compliment the visuals and I’m not sure it does here.
  • How is it that films like this get made over twenty years ago and nothing has changed? Yes, in once sense its good that it being put on streaming platforms will bring it to a new audience. But it’s a damn fucking shame that it doesn’t have the impact it should.
  • I cried. I ugly cried. I’m not going to go into details about the whens and the whys, but this film does carry with it a lot of what’s going on today. The presence of such blind hatred is throughout the narrative, its on all sides and it is bias. I’ve always been somewhat of a empathetic viewer and this did leave me somewhat overwhelmed.

Final Thoughts

It is an incredible film. One I’m not sure I was ever ready for before and I’m not too sure if I’ll ever opt to watch again. However i do believe it’s a film everyone should see.

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