"One in every three black males is in some phase of the correctional system. Is that a coincidence, or do these people have, you know, like a racial commitment to crime?" - Derek Vinyard
Tony Kaye has not made any other films that have been as widely recognized as this in the United States. Which is shocking to me considering the absolute brilliance of this film both in mood, and character. Another shocking fact that I learned while researching this film to write this review is that Edward Norton and Tony Kaye very publicly feuded over editing control which led ultimately to Kaye demanding that his name be removed from the credits and replaced with the name Humpty Dumpty. I am not sure exactly why Kaye was so displeased with this film, because I felt that the editing in particular was one of the strongest reasons I enjoyed this so immensely. I have seen this film a handful of times, and it still brings an array of emotion from me on every viewing.
The story begins with Daniel Vinyard (Edward Furlong), a 17 year old boy, in trouble at school for writing an essay about "Mein Kampf", in which he attempts to tell the story of Adolf Hitler as a civil rights hero. We begin to learn why Daniels' mind is so warped by flashbacks. These scenes are shot in black and white which gives the film a very documentary style feel that drew me even closer to the characters. Three years prior to Daniels' controversial essay, his older brother Derek (Edward Norton) was arrested and incarcerated for vigilante justice against african americans stealing his truck. Derek is a white supremist, complete with swastika tattoos, and a shaved head. Once Derek is imprisoned, he begins to see the world from a different point of view. He immediately befriends other white supremists, knowing that no one makes it in prison alone, only to find over time that they are hypocritical morons, who really don't share his views of society, but are simply trying to fit in somewhere. As he begins to try and distance himself, prison life gets increasingly difficult, and he finds himself learning more about the people he has hated so long by working side by side in the laundry room with Lamont(Guy Torry), a small time crook who loves to talk. Derek vows to change his life and attempt to help his younger brother see the error in their thinking as soon as he is released. Only Daniel has gotten so deep into the life that changing his thoughts proves to be an extremely difficult, and dangerous task.
Edward Furlong did a nice job here, and this is one of the few movies of his that I can say that about. Beverly D'Angelo plays their ailing mother, and Ethan Suplee portrays an equally ignorant friend. Edward Norton, however, was the heart and soul of this movie. You take the journey with him from his fathers' racist comments as a child, to his fathers' subsequent death fighting a fire where he was killed by a black drug addict, and you see past the hatefulness into what could actually make someone believe these things. When Derek is giving his arguments to his family in a heated dinner conversation, you actually, shamefully, catch yourself almost buying it, which is a great testament not only to the script, but to Nortons' amazing delivery.
I went through a wide spectrum of emotion from anger to adrenalized, to broken hearted and embarassed, and as the credits rolled, I contemplated my own thoughts and actions and how they may be percieved by other cultures. That is the mark of great filmmaking, when you are left pondering your relation to the story at the end. If you haven't seen this film, do yourself a favor, and see it. But prepare yourself for an intense journey.