Some legacies must end.

American History X is a powerful and thought provoking drama that works on many levels. New Line has done a fine job with this presentation. I just wish they had felt it worthy of their usually spectacular Platinum Edition treatment.

The key to American History X, though, is the story. I’m going to uncharacteristically include some spoilers here so feel free to skip the remainder of this paragraph if you like. The story revolves around Derek Vinyard (Norton). The director skillfully weaves between three major sub-stories: what drove Derek to become a skinhead, Derek’s rise in the local skinhead gang and the actions which land him in jail, and Derek’s reform from the skinhead movement along with his fight to save his younger brother Danny (Furlong) from traveling down the same path he has just traveled. Along the way we are treated to some very specific actions which lead Derek to a state of confusion about his skinhead brothers. Thankfully, the story does not take any easy outs with a simple happy ending. Rather, the ending of the film will probably have you thinking much more than the rest of the story. By demonizing a black teenager at the end of the film, the director almost tempts you to sympathize with the skinhead movement even though Derek seems to have fully abandoned the gospel of hate he embraced earlier in the film. In any event, you will not walk away from this film unmoved. I can guarantee that.

Edward Norton received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Derek Vinyard, and it was rightly deserved. His performance is top notch and he continues to display the talents that make him one of the best actors you may not know. Edward Furlong gives another excellent performance as well as Derek’s younger brother Danny. For a young man who harbored no thoughts of an acting career until he was discovered and cast in Terminator 2, he has developed quite a string of diverse roles and a nice career in the process.

The supporting cast does a fine job as well, including standout performances by Avery Brooks (Star Trek: Deep Space 9), Fairuza Balk (The Craft), Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation), Stacey Keach, and Elliott Gould. One last standout worth mentioning is Jennifer Lien who plays Derek’s sister Davina. She looked very familiar to me, but I could not place her. It turns out she played the part of Kes on Star Trek: Voyager. Hopefully this role will open some more doors for her, as she did a rather splendid job with what little was written for the role. A memorable performance.

American History X will almost surely mean quite a bit more feature film work for director Tony Kaye, who is best known for his commercials and music videos, and first time feature writer David McKenna.

This 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer from the folks at New Line measures up to their typical efforts, which is to say marvelous. The film itself employs the usage of black and white footage to represent flashbacks and does so rather effectively. It marks a clear delineation between the present and the past. But it is more than that as well. It clearly represents Derek’s prejudicial beliefs during those times in the past, since he saw everything then as black and white in a racial sense. New Line handles both the black and white and color portions of this film in a beautiful way. Edges are clean and crisp with none of the softness inherent in other non-anamorphic transfers. Colors were deep and rich and there was no over- or under-saturation of the images depending on lighting keys. Really top notch.

The extras on the disc are a bit sparse, unfortunately. They included three deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer, and talent bios and filmograohies. The major difference between New Line and most other studios is that they tend to go all out. As a result, the filmographies on the talent were extensive and complete. I mean a complete list of every film and television work for each major player, including the writer, and director. The one oversight was the absence of Ms. Lien’s history. But, again it was a fairly small role and understandably overlooked.

My only complaint with the DVD release of American History X is that New Line did not offer it up as part of their excellent Platinum Edition series. I would have really like to hear several commentaries on this film, especially by the director, writer, Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, and many others. The extras are quite good, I just would have liked more, especially given the significance of the film.

If you have not yet seen American History X, do so. Rent, buy, or borrow it. It’s worth seeing more than once.

THE VERDICT
Acquitted on all counts.

Tech Specs

American History X (1998), New Line Cinema, 119 min, R, Released: 6 Apr 1999
VIDEO: 1.85:1 AUDIO: Dolby 5.1 (English) SUBTITLES: None
EXTRAS: Deleted Scenes, Biographies, Filmographies, Trailer
ACCOMPLICES: IMDb

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