American History X [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (10th June 2009).
The Film

There are very few films, if any at all, that have actually turned out great after a public spat involving the director wanting to distance themselves from the project has broken out. There are many reasons why director's leave projects and can include arguments and creative differences with stars and studio bosses over the script, or the tone, or commercial viability of a project. These projects tend to get abandoned and the end result is a disaster, and although the director disputed with the studio "American History X" actually turned out to be a modern classic. It earned its star some gravitas in Hollywood and virtually launching his career.

Director Tony Kaye, entered into a very public argument with Edward Norton and the studio about the final cut of the film. Kaye requested his name be taken off the film and replaced with a pseudonym, in most cases the name Alan Smithee is used, but when he violated the DGA guidelines by taking out ads in Variety about why he disowned the film (The guideline states that the filmmaker must not talk about why they had their name removed) his request was denied and his name remained in the credits. Kaye decided to sue both the DGA and New Line... as a result the Alan Smithee pseudonym is no longer in use and his relationship between both the union and Hollywood was soured. But after the intense lawsuits and a decade in Hollywood purgatory it seems like the filmmaker regrets a lot of what happened (check out this excellent article from the Telegraph).

"American History X" tells the story of ex-neo Nazi Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) who after a 3 year prison sentence is released, upon coming out he finds that his younger brother, Danny (Edward Furlong) has fallen in with the same people that he was once caught up with, and displaying racist behavior that landed him jail. During his hey day Derek was the poster child for the Venice Beach neo-Nazi's led by Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach), but after his stint in prison he changed his outlook on life and wants to change his racist ways and must convince his younger brother to do the same before he finds himself caught in the same vicious cycle he was once in.

"American History X" is one of the most shocking and intense films on race issues in America, taking the stance from the white perspective it's an uncompromising and often disturbing look at the extreme point of view of it's main character, his unfortunate spiral of hatred and pent-up rage that leads him to killing two black men. The film shines a harsh light on these issues and makes its point with as much impact as a punch to the face. David McKenna's screenplay utilizes shock value to make its point, but it's not shock for shock's sake however... "American History X" delves deep into the problems of the racists white movement and the corruption of its youth. This is primarily communicated by Danny's perspective as Derek tries to right the wrongs he's committed against his family in leading them into an abyss of hatred. So in many ways the film also acts as a redemption story, just not in the classic sense, it's in its execution that makes "American History X" so compelling.

There are flaws however, it's not a perfect film, in many ways its a bit melodramatic and occasionally over-written in some places, but it all serves the film's purpose. I was, however, wondering as I viewed it, if this was the intention of its director? Kaye's original cut probably remains on the top of the list of versions of films most wanted to see (at least on my list), if anything for curiosity's sake. It would be great one day to see how much different it actually is.

As far as the script goes, I was always disappointed with the initial motivation that transforms Derek, it's a little weak, but luckily doesn't play too heavily on its cliché... especially considering his father (seen in a flashback) was a closet racist, the young Derek was presented as a smart young man with direction, but after his father's death he turned into a ethic-hating ball of rage. Furthermore Danny's remarkable turnaround is also pretty quick in the grand scheme of things. Considering he's had over three years of conditioning, Derek manages to turn him around in a single night. That's a bit far fetched... but necessary for the story to go where it needed to.

The film features some electrifying performances, while Norton gets the bulk of the credit here and while he's captivating, real and gritty to its core. At his most aggressive Norton is a scary figure to behold onscreen, as a voice of reason he's equally convincing. Meanwhile his co-star, Edward Norton proves to viewers he's no longer the squeaky-voiced kid from "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" (1991) and delivers an incredible performance that begs the question - why isn't he in more films?

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1 this film is delivered onto Blu-ray in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been mastered using VC-1 compression codec. The film has been shot with both black and white film and color film. The flashbacks are in black and white and are presented in a grittier light, the contrast is harsh and the grain is occasionally heavy. The footage is perfectly presented here and provide a solid juxtaposition to the color footage, which represents the modern day. The overall film uses a cinéma vérité style that captures the film as if it's a documentary. The image does tend to lack some detail in certain shots, but this is intentional, close-ups look good and there's plenty of texture in the frame. The colors hold up well with natural skin tones. Overall it's a massive improvement over the DVD which was released a decade ago.

Audio

Two audio tracks are featured on this disc in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/16-bit as well as the standard English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The film uses it's surround sparingly, dialogue is clear and distortion free although front heavy at times. There's some ambient sounds that fill in the environment and the score tends to add further depth which is good. My main problem is that the track isn't entirely aggressive or active. It does however, work for the film.
Subtitles are included in both English and Spanish only.

Extras

Warner Brothers has released this film with a very light smattering of extras that includes a few deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up are the three deleted scenes that include:

- "Boardwalk" runs for 54 seconds, a bunch of skin head kids accost a homeless black lady on the boardwalk.
- "Ben's Burgers" runs for 5 minutes 18 seconds, Cameron and Seth go to a burger joint after the party, Cameron tells him about Derek's prison time that changed him and tries to convince Seth that he can step up and take charge.
- "How Do I Look?" runs for 40 seconds, Derek asks a young girl at the diner if he looks OK.

Finally rounding out the extras is the film's original theatrical trailer in high-definition and runs for 2 minutes 29 seconds.

Overall

It's my hope that one day a 'Special Edition' could be released with more extras including Kaye's version of the film, until then this release is worth picking up even though the extras are light.

The Film: A- Video: A Audio: B- Extras: D+ Overall: B-

 


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