American History is a film which was recommended to me whilst out travelling in South East Asia and thanks to Netflix download it was possible to watch whilst on a boat out in Indonesia. I had never heard of the film before so didn’t know what to expect and I was amazed!
For those who have not seen it, the plot revolves around Danny (Edward Furlong) and his brother Derek (Edward Norton), a neo-Nazi, who has just been released from prison, after killing two black men. Derek has completely changed his ways upon his release, a shock to his brother who has been following in his older brothers footsteps. The film revolves around describing how and why Derek’s beliefs have altered so dramatically.
The film flashes back and forward in time as Danny narrates the past, due to an assignment set out by the Principal about his brother. The past is shot in black and white, while the present is in colour, making a clear distinction between the two. I also felt it reflects Derek’s attitude at the time towards people at the time as either black or white, friend or foe. When he leaves prison however his view of the world is less regimented and conformed, thus the world is full of colour and it’s a more postive outlook on life compared to his dark past.
With these flash backs you see the changes of Derek’s character, who I found at first to be a violent, racist teenager with enough charisma to convince a group of skin heads to commit some violent acts, but by the end you are shown a man who has learnt from his ways and is now trying to do what he can to protect his family, especially his brother. Norton shows this change wonderfully and fully deserves his nomination for an Academy Award in a Leading Role. His change of persona and humility is convincing enough to allow the viewer to empathise with him by the end and not merely think of him as worthless.
Director Tony Kaye produces some very powerful scenes to show the violence committed by the skinheads and Derek including a rape scene and an attack on a store. Some of the scenes are incredibly uncomfortable to watch but truly show the heinous nature of the crimes, making the editing of the scenes very creative and impressive to manage to produce this outcome. However I was a little aggravated with the ending as it felt cheap and as if Kaye couldn’t be bothered to end it properly and for a film with a $20 million budget it ought to have finished in a more powerful manner.