"Norton Sells This Frightening Portrait of Racism"
American History X (*** ½) - One of the most powerful and disturbing films of the year is easily this one. For two hours I was riveted - mainly by Edward Norton’s strong lead performance as the Skinhead wanting to go clean. Norton is consistently turning in great performances and this one is worthy of a second Oscar nomination.I could go on all day about how good he is in this movie. There’s a dinner scene where he goes on and on spewing racist overtones that almost seems uninterrupted and it’s nothing short of brilliant. The writing in nearly all of the scenes is smart and convincing in its subject matter. But the movie falls short of the 4-star mark for me because it does have its shortcomings. One of them is a late scene involving Norton’s father where the basis for Norton’s hatred begins. It’s not necessarily a badly done scene - but it rings false for me big time because Norton’s character at that point is at least 15 or 16 years old. He’s shown as intelligent and has no previous hatred towards blacks because he seems to respect his English teacher who is black and has no problem reading black literature. He seems too smart to be influenced by his dad at this point. If he was a lot younger, it would work better. Plus, it’s unnecessary because it seemed more believable already that his hatred comes from some black crack addicts killing his fireman father while putting out a blaze. The plot is not the most original either, obviously. How many times have we seen a criminal wanting to put behind his criminal past? Edward Furlong also seems to be a bit whiny (as usual) during some of his scenes that might have been handled better by another actor. The conclusion is also a little predictable, although well-directed, tense, and not ending necessarily the exact way I was expecting. The prison scenes are rough, although a little muddled in certain places. Plus, there’s an act of brutality that is so horrific, it made me cringe in my seat. When you see the scene, and you’ll know what it is, listen to the sound effects.But, once again on the positive side - this is a very good film, visually terrific, and containing that awesome Edward Norton performance that I hope gets remembered at Oscar time. (Note: For us Jonathon Brandmeier listeners out there - I had to appreciate the name of the black teacher - Sweeney. “Sweeney loves American History X!!! SWEENEY!!!” Sound bytes galore for Johnny B.)