“SKIN” is a gritty true life tale that started off as a short film by Guy Nattiv and turned into this full length feature film featuring some stellar acting and a story, that while it might seem kind of familiar and possibly a bit formulaic, makes into a solid feature.
Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell) is a long-term member of the Vindlanders Social Club, run by Fred Krager aka ‘Hammer‘ (Bill Camp), who inducts down-on-their-luck young kids into his gang by offering them food and shelter, all the while drip-feeding racist bile into their mindset. As we first meet Bryon, he’s already beginning to question his membership in the organization, even though he is getting ready to participate in one of their horrible missions to burn up a building with his fellow Neo-Nazi’s. This self-examination of what he is doing in his life, intensifies when he falls for Julie (Danielle Macdonald), a tough young mother with three kids ranging from 5-13, who has cut her ties with the Nazi ideology. When he starts to see new recruit Gavin (Russell Posner) go through the same process as he did, he starts to look for ways to get out.
This is where things get tricky. As Bryon’s journey is inter-cut with intense scenes of his tattoo removal process, which is in and of itself, a hard watch. We also have to bear witness to him follow through with the mission of hate crimes they commit which then get him put on the Federal most wanted list of criminals. He then himself, has to go underground and work in the same type of situations the people he once so cruelly hurt do.
While the story might fall into traps of it’s own making and be similar to the kinds of movies that deal with this subject matter, i.e., American History X comes mostly to mind, as our main character starts off the movie with strong prejudices and views which throughout the course of the film he starts to question. So why even watch it if we know what’s going to happen I hear you ask? We watch it because we want to see the journey he takes that helps him reach the point of wanting to change, and for me this is where the movie fell down a little, the story felt a little rushed at times. For example I felt that more time could have been spent exploring the family gang-style dynamics because it was that family dynamic that shaped his racial views, but it all felt very glossed over. I had no idea how large this “gang” was or how much power money influence they had because the movie didn’t tell me.
I thought this film was a credible, true story of what living with the consequences of your actions can be, but also with the hope that there is still time to change. I always have a problem with UK/Aussie actors trying to come in and do strong southern accents as they are extremely difficult and I can usually spot faults with it immediately and here we have not only Bell (British) but Macdonald (Aussie) as leads. That being said, Jamie Bell was phenomenal here and pulled this character off completely, though Vera Farmiga was just criminally underused as Mom.
This film can help change mentalities. I was sucked into seeing the differences of some people whom actually live within this world and make these decisions believing they are doing good in the world. All in all it’s a good film, I’d say it’s not as powerful as other similar films like the aforementioned ‘American History X’, but then again this a true story and that alone makes it an interesting watch. Not only to see how a real person so entrenched in hate culture can change their lives for the better of not only themselves, but everyone around them as well.
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 ~ Courtesy of 42 West LLC/A24
“SKIN” HITS THEATERS ON FRIDAY, JULY 26, 2019