STARRING: JAMIE BELL; DANIELLE MACDONALD; BILL CAMP; VERA FARMIGA; MIKE COLTER
DIRECTED BY: GUY NATTIV
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
The question you must ask yourself before watching Guy Nattiv's Skin, is what your thoughts are on forgiveness? I certainly believe in redemption, but I also wonder when we can stop forgiving and start learning about those that have been wounded by the oppressors? Where are the films of people hurt by white supremacists? I'd say there are not enough of them. Skin is still a redemption film, about reformed white supremacist Bryon Widner (played excellently by Jamie Bell), who lived a life of hate as a skinhead, with various tattoos covering his body, head to toe. Although it is a painful film, one that significantly challenged me to feel empathy for a person, it seems to continue to be a message we need told. With hate groups rising, stronger than ever after the election of Donald Trump, a movie such as Skin might be the story to remind others that hate is not the way to live.
A helpful bit of information about writer/director and oscar winner Guy Nattiv, is that he is a second generation of Holocaust survivors, so he is aware of hatred in humans. Yet, his films continue to reach across the aisle in life and extends a branch by telling stories of forgiveness. Those facts are honestly what made me appreciate Skin more. Here is a film, about Bryon Widner, someone that commits atrocities of hatred, we witness him carve a swastika into a young black man's face early on, all in a belief that anyone who does not look like him is bad. After some threats by local law-enforcement to throw him in jail for good, and disagreements with his fellow members, we begin to see the softening, an awakening for Bryon. That forgiveness may never come, but that's for those that have been mistreated and members of the audience to decide.
The supporting players are a mixture of those that have installed the hatred into Bryon and those that will help him get out of it. The leader of his supremacist group is Fred 'Hammer' Krager (played by fantastic character actor Bill Camp), whom we see recruiting poor children with booze and followed by a frightening posse. By his side is the complicit Shareen (Vera Farmiga), who the other guys call 'Mama', and proves that she's just as much of a violent person as her husband. Those helping to get him out is Daryle Jenkins (Mike Carter), who is the real hero of the story, a black man fighting to expose these hate groups, and developing a friendship with Bryon to get him to the other side. The love interest for Bryon is Julie Price (Danielle Macdonald- finally in a role that isn't a rags-to-riches story), the woman that became a driving force in helping him reform, seeing that Bryon can be a good father to her children, and that there is more to him than just tattoos.
What is impressive about Skin is that it's never celebrating the hatred, only revealing us to it. From the get go, the transformation of Jamie Bell is a revelation and scary. The Billy Elliot and Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool actor delivers a career defining performance, with a mixture of raw emotion. The tattoo's look real, branded across his face, on his neck, his stomach, and back, each one a reminder of the man that Widnor is. It will be interesting to see what Jamie Bell does next, because I imagine it being hard to forget this performance. The screenplay by Nattiv has a precise amount of focus, interweaving the tattoo removal process that Widnor went through, from scene to scene, with moments of Bryon's violent acts, and his efforts to clear the hatred from his body. Nattiv is a fantastic director because he is never swaying the audiences viewpoints, only focusing on the story at hand, a story he knows all too much.
In the end, Skin is a strong narrative feature. The shortcomings involve the fact that I wanted more time spent with the Daryle Jenkins character. The Widnor character is the flashy, controversial part, but not enough movies celebrate the activist, the person that makes a change in this world, and fights against the hatred of others. For many, Skin will be a film to watch and wash off, because to celebrate it anymore feels painfully redundant. The performances from all involved are strong- especially Bell- and Guy Nattiv is a director to look out for. We need more like him, shining a light on the ugliness of the world, and looking for kindness on the other side.
SKIN IS IN THEATERS AND ON DEMAND JULY 26
Written by: Leo Brady