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American History X(1998)
Derek Vinyard is dangerous, a coiled fury of hate who leads a neo-Nazi gang. But time and events start to change him. He reassesses his ways while doing time for manslaughter and emerges from prison eager to keep his younger brother from falling victim to the thug cycle of violence and payback. It may be too late.
For more about American History X and the American History X Blu-ray release, see American History X Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 13, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo, Jennifer Lien, Ethan Suplee, Fairuza Balk
Director: Tony Kaye
» See full cast & crew
American History X Blu-ray Review
Norton's staggering drama finally arrives on Blu-ray...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 13, 2009
As I sit here considering everything I want to express about American History X -- easily one of the most important, stirring, and powerful films to ever emerge from Hollywood's primordial cinematic ooze -- it occurs to me how much easier it is to flay a hideous, straight-to-video fiasco than to effectively express my adoration for an indisputable masterpiece; particularly one that means so much to so many people. To hear that the film almost fell apart in post-production may surprise you, but that's precisely what happened. When diva-director extraordinaire Tony Kaye (Snowblind, Lake of Fire) refused to make several changes to his initial cut, Edward Norton and the studio had to step in, wrestle away the reigns, and attempt to salvage the project. It's impossible to tell how much of the final cut retains Kaye's original vision and how much reflects Norton's efforts, but one thing is clear: American History X is an indomitable modern classic that will continue to stand the test of time for years to come.
Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) isn't the kind of guy you invite over to dinner with the fam. Filled with uncontrollable rage, burdened by his late father's deep-seated prejudices, and brimming with every racial slur a militant neo-nazi might possess, this tattooed monster is hatred incarnate. Yet despite his outward appearance and destructive behavior, he still has a soft spot in his heart for his mother (Beverly D'Angelo) and younger siblings. Tragically, after being arrested and imprisoned for his gleeful participation in an unspeakable crime, Derek's younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) falls in with the same skinhead group that helped transform Derek into a murderous thug. Under the watchful eye of a manipulative racist named Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach), Danny begins to decorate his room with nazi paraphernalia, insult teachers, pick fights with other students, and rebel from his steady-handed principal (Avery Brooks). Thankfully, after an eye-opening stretch in prison, Derek returns home a changed man. No longer a slave to the bigotry, shortsightedness, and volatility that dominated his life, he sets about to impart his newfound wisdom to Danny and convince his younger brother to escape the dangerous lifestyle he once so proudly embraced.
American History X hits hard and refuses to relent, relying on nonlinear storytelling, heartbreaking tragedies, and disturbing encounters to submerge its audience in Derek and Danny's unsettling world. Norton's performance is nothing short of iconic -- crafting three entirely different versions of the same character, his every word and expression transforms him into the authentic human being we see on screen. Before Derek is escorted to prison, Norton fills his frame with shocking anger, terribly frightening rhetoric, and an untapped fire that seems to exude from the very depths of his soul. After he's released from prison, Norton uses Derek to completely contrast the man we saw disappear behind bars. There's a sudden sadness... a lull in spirit that comes as he witnesses the ongoing consequences of his actions. His overwhelming desire to save his family is immediate and believable; his need to set things right is so compelling that he ceases to be the film's antagonist and becomes its flawed and repentant everyman.
Of course, it would all be for nothing if Norton wasn't surrounded by an outstanding cast of supporting actors. Furlong manages to effortlessly parlay and parallel everything Derek doles out and experiences. He wields his character's adolescence as a boy whose salvation is still obtainable; someone who hasn't slipped so far that he can't come back. D'Angelo stands out as well, infusing Derek and Danny's mother with a desperation and exhaustion that marks the nuances of her vulnerable performance. I always find myself growing increasingly frustrated at her inability to properly influence her children, but I'm never able to put my finger on what she should actually be doing to pull her family out of such a self-sustaining predicament. And Brooks? Brooks anchors himself firmly in the center of screenwriter David McKenna's mesmerizing script as the one stable element in Derek and Danny's lives. His tough love and unabashed resolve reveal a character who's just as angry as the Vinyard boys, but funnels his emotions where they can serve a common good.
It all leads to one of the most stunning, thought-provoking, gut-punch third acts you'll ever endure. The consequences of each character's decisions lead to very real ramifications in a very real world. There's no Hollywood denouement, no convenient closer, no contrived answers... just more challenging questions about racism, hatred, and the quality and condition of our relationships with one another. Even so, my questions won't be your questions, my reaction won't be your reaction, my feelings won't be your feelings. In that regard, American History X proves itself to be an ever-evolving work of art; a film that produces a unique personal response in everyone who watches it.
American History X Blu-ray, Video Quality
Considering the film's uncomfortably grim and gritty imagery, cinematography, and thematic content, the Blu-ray edition of American History X boasts a relatively remarkable 1080p/VC-1 transfer that puts its standard DVD counterpart to shame. Colorized scenes are surprisingly vibrant and well saturated, delivering natural skintones, simmering contrast, and nicely resolved black levels (in all but a few nighttime shots). While Kaye tones down the warmest aspects of his palette at times, he continually allows vivid reds and stark blues to find their way back into the presentation. His black-and-white flashback sequences have been perfectly preserved by Warner's encoders as well, reproducing the diverse midtones and well-delineated shadows of the original print with ease. Granted, overall clarity takes a fair share of hits -- edges sometimes grow soft, indistinct textures often prevail, and the film's heavy grain frequently robs the picture of its finest details. Regardless, such shortcomings should be attributed to Kaye's aesthetic choices rather than any mysterious technical deficiency. By my estimation, Warner's filmic presentation is wholeheartedly faithful to its source. Moreover, I didn't encounter significant instances of artifacting, digital clutter, edge enhancement, noise reduction (DNR), or crush. Minor banding briefly plagues a handful of daytime exterior shots, but never becomes a distraction.
American History X may not turn heads with crystal clear definition or jaw-dropping dimensionality, but it does present the film exactly as it was meant to be seen. Personally, I'm thoroughly satisfied with the results.
American History X Blu-ray, Audio Quality
American History X features an exceedingly subdued Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that, despite numerous stretches of silence, whispered conversations, and soft musical cues, should satisfy audiophiles and fans of the film alike. Dialogue is consistently intelligible, sound effects are well balanced within the soundscape, and each element is nicely prioritized within the mix. And even though the experience's limited LFE presence and passive rear speaker support doesn't flex any serious sonic muscle, subtle ambience and convincing acoustics nevertheless create a fairly immersive soundfield. My only complaints revolve around some stocky pans and imprecise directionality. While the quality of the on-set recordings and looping sessions are probably to blame, voices occasionally hop from one speaker to the next without a proper transition or reason to do so. Will it bother most people? I doubt most viewers will even notice it... or, for that matter, care. Ultimately, Warner's quiet TrueHD track marks a solid effort on the part of the studio that doesn't suffer from any debilitating or distracting problems.
American History X Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Sadly, the only supplemental material fans will find on the Blu-ray edition of American History X is an all-too-short collection of deleted scenes (SD, 7 minutes) and a theatrical trailer (HD, 3 minutes). Anyone looking for a glimpse into the film's troubled production will have to continue waiting for the studio to grant Norton's finest a more revealing release.
American History X Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
American History X is a phenomenal, groundbreaking piece of filmmaking that unsettles the gut, engages the heart, and takes up permanent residence in the mind. To say that it belongs on every filmfan's shelves is a gross understatement. While Warner and Norton haven't conjured up the sort of supplemental attention it deserves, the Blu-ray edition nevertheless debuts with a thoroughly faithful video transfer and lossless audio track. Don't waste any more time reading my review -- at a mere fifteen bucks, this must-own release is an absolute steal.
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• Warner Announces 10 Blu-rays for April 7th - December 18, 2008
Warner Home Video has announced that they will bring 10 of their most popular catalog titles to Blu-ray on April 7th. These titles include 'The Wedding Singer: Totally Awesome Edition', 'American History X', 'Final Destination', 'Point of No Return', 'Taking Lives: ...
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