Film: Videowatch

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The Independent Culture
American History X (18), to rent from Monday

Now that the high-level spat that accompanied the production of Tony Kaye's anti-White Power parable has died down, its video release gives us a chance to assess the commercial director's feature debut in peace. With flashbacks, the action takes place the day Derek (Edward Norton), a convicted race murderer, is released from prison. Now a reformed man, Derek attempts to rescue his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) from the gang of racist skinheads he helped to organise.

From the start, Kaye makes it clear that we're to appreciate the film as a moral fable. Derek is photographed on his racist rampages in glossy slow-motion which, though undeniably handsome, jars with the film's high- handed message. What's more, the distinction made between Derek then, shot in black and white, and Derek now, shot in colour, reveals the film's simplistic reading of his complex development. Moreover, a host of incidental characters are left dangling. Thanks to Norton and some crafty editing, though, at least it goes by at a clip.

Orphans (18), to rent

Peter Mullan's success with his directing debut wasn't quite out of the blue. He may be best known to cinema audiences as the star of Ken Loach's My Name Is Joe, but the actor had built a reputation for himself within the industry for his short films.

In the wake of their mother's death, four siblings - a trio of brothers by turn cynical, angry and despairing, and a stoical disabled sister - make their separate, picaresque journeys through a Glasgow night. The down-at-heel urban Scottish setting may come as no surprise, but Mullan's take on the brothers' emotional crises and the Glasgow setting against which they're played out, is an unexpectedly black and surreal achievement.

Mike Higgins