Monday, 17 May 2010

What I've Been Watching: DVD - Awaydays & American History X


Football Hooligan movies fill with me with a certain amount of dread. As a teacher I know the impact such films can have on young impressionable teens. Regardless of their attempts to show the consequences of such violence, there is still a level of style given to the riots between rival football fans that I feel filmmakers should take more responsibility for.

Awaydays does nothing to alleviate such fears. It features skinny teenagers taking on gangs of much older men and coming out with barely a scratch.

Despite this, it may not be the type of movie that would appeal to boys of that certain age. The story centres on the relationship between the main character, Catry, and Elvis. The latter appearing to have feelings that go beyond friendship towards the former.

The problem with the movie is not just that the characters are not particularly likeable, it's that they're also pretty difficult to sympathise with. Whether it's one trying to get the adrenaline rush of being in a brawl, another looking for the satisfaction of love that can never happen, or another trying to hold onto his youth by commanding a company of teens, I care little about their plight.

It's not that the film lacks ambition or has nothing to say. It's just that theyway the story is presented gives us little reason to care. Is this a story about the appeal and dangers of hooliganism? Is it about finding your place in the world? Is it about allowing other people to see the person you really are?

The problem then is not its stylishly shot scenes of hooliganism, neither its unsympathetic characters, but that Awayday's story lacks anything to hang onto - instead, it's as random and pointless as the violence it so readily depicts.

A9BC164B-E305-4F67-8C10-8CE2E2C02C0B.jpgAmerican History X

Another movie which readily depicts violence is American History X, a movie about the relationship between two brothers, the older of whom ends up in jail after a racially motivated attack.

Unlike Awaydays, however, this movie has no problems telling its story, even though it does so in a much more complicated, and hence interesting, manner.

Split between flashbacks in black and white, and the colourful world of the present day, both brothers are forced to face up to the actions that have got them to the place they are at now. The plot being propelled by the younger's assignment to write a paper about how the older one ended up doing time.

Where it excels in my opinion, is in its depiction of family. A family which, although dysfunctional, has little in common with The Tenenbaums nor The Simpsons.Instead they're a family broken apart by grief and resentment for an incident in their past.

Few movies manage to capture so well the many facets that make us who we are as a result of our upbringing and parental environment.

308D6EFE-89B9-41F8-8104-514EB88F7232.jpgYet as we dig deeper into what made Edward Norton's character become leader of a white supremacist group, we understand how such an intelligent youth could get it so badly wrong.

We also see how he becomes a father figure to his younger brother, and that Danny's need to follow in his footsteps can only have dire consequences for everyone involved.

Unlike in the world of procedurals like CSI and Without a Trace, the solving of a murder does little to bring closure to such a life-defining event and the consequences of seeing a loved one be killed will live with those closest to them forever.

There are many other aspects to American History X. However, upon first viewing this is the one that stuck out most. It could also be praised for its depiction of race relations, which felt incredibly refreshing - presenting few easy solutions to such a long-standing problem. Never mind Norton's outstanding performance, the narrative structure, the writing or the cinematography. Perhaps it's just best you see it for yourself...

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