It has been many years since I have seen this film. My memory attested it to be an excellent picture that meaningfully discussed issues as heavy as race relations, prejudice, and hatred. Unfortunately, my memory is a little at fault, and upon viewing it this time I found it a bit disappointing. The film sets its sights to the heavens, and while succeeding in many ways, it could not attain such a lofty height. In trying to cover all the basis in such a thorny issue as race relations it cheats a bit in its storytelling. But we'll cover more of that in a bit.
The plot involves a young, white Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) and the tumultuous 24 hours after his release from prison for killing two black men while they were trying to steal his car. Much of the story is told in a flash-backed black-and-white. Here we learn that Derek was a Neo-Nazi skinhead leader who has had a change of heart after his stint in prison. Post prison time is being spent trying to keep his brother, Danny (Edward Furlong) from following in his footsteps, a path he is already walking down.
This is a powerful, moving film. Reading the boards on IMDB will attest to lives being changed through watching it. It works best when it shoots for an emotional response, rather than an intellectual one. Scenes such as when Edward Nortan's skin head leader rallies the troops to loot a local grocer, or the opening scene where we see Norton kill the two aforementioned black men, or a traumatic rape scene in prison, emit a guttural response from its viewers. It is in such scenes that we are rallied into discourse on the issues presented. Yet when the film gets talky it falls short of its ideals. It presents nothing beyond the general rhetoric you can find just about anywhere. In fact most of the rhetoric is spewed from the Neo-Nazi skinheads, and this type of discussion can be found every other day on day time talk shows. There is little in way of discussion from the rational, unprejudiced mind.
There are two powerful performances from Edward Norton and Edward Furlong. At this point Norton was already beginning to take his role as the new Robert DeNiro, who had previously taken his turn as the new Marlon Brando. Let's hope he escapes the fate of mediocrity that they fell into. Furlong, who once made Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Laurence Olivier with such a wooden performance, here has finally made himself worthy of attention. He gives a fine performance here, as a young man struggling with the passionate feelings of youth.