Skin (2018)

Director: Guy Nattiv
Writer: Guy Nattiv
Cast: Jamie Bell, Danielle Macdonald, Daniel Henshall, Bill Camp, Louisa Krause, Zoe Margaret Colletti, Kylie Rogers, Colbi Gannett, Mike Colter, Vera Farmiga, Mary Stuart Masterson
Seen on: 23.10.2019

Content Note: (critical treamtent of) fascism, racism

Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell) has basically grown up in the neonazi scene and is one of the bigger players in his area. He is really committed to the cause – covered in tattoos from head to toe that make his allegiance visible for everyone, and taking part in more than one act of violence against marginalized communities. But when Bryon meets Julie (Danielle Macdonald) and her three daughters, his desire to quit the neonazi scene grows. The scene isn’t willing to let him go that easily, though.

Skin tackles a difficult topic and tries to do so with complexity, but doesn’t always do it justice. The great cast makes up for a lot, though.

The film poster showing Bryon (Jamie Bell), his face covered in tattoos.

Of course, we need to hear the stories about people being able to quit the neonazi scene. We need to hear about how it isn’t easy, but possible. It’s not a road of no return, but it’s not easy to turn around. And Skin definitely shows that. It shows how much Bryon is entrenched in his community, and it shows that he couldn’t make it on his own. He has the help of several people here who work with him.

But at the same time, the film doesn’t really show the work Bryon has to put in to achieve some kind of forgiveness from the people he hurt. Or rather that he takes responsibility for it. We never get to see him taking the stand against the members of his former group. It felt like the film was much more preoccupied with the removal of his (very prominent, facial) tattoos – as if the change he needs to go through is literally only skin-deep.

Bryon (Jamie Bell) lying in a hospital bed.

In addition, there are barely any People of Color in the film and the victim’s perspective is completely omitted. The only one who really gets a speaking role is Daryle (Mike Colter) and he is a Black guy who hasn’t been directly victimized, but has devoted his life to getting neonazis out of their scene. The four Muslim men that are killed in the beginning of the film are little more than props and their death is set in scene with less drama, grief and impact than the death of Bryon’s dog.

So, there were some issues I had with the way the film is structured. But I definitely didn’t take issue with the performances here. Jamie Bell is really awesome, and Danielle Macdonald is fantastic as usual. The film definitely has merit (even beyond the performances), but it could have been a little more.

Bryon (Jamie Bell), his face full of tattoos.

Summarizing: not great, but very good.

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