Cast: Jamie Bell, Vera Farmiga, Danielle Macdonald, Mike Colter
Director: Guy Nattiv
Of all of the movies to premiere at TIFF in 2018, Skin has taken the strangest journey to get to us. TIFF is traditionally a launching pad for movies that are looking to make some awards-season noise, but Skin went straight to on-demand after it’s premiere. I know A24 tried distributing it a few months after that, but at that point all momentum was lost. It’s a shame, because Skin had all the makings of something special that should be seen by more audiences. Led by a moving and captivating performance by Bell, Skin tackles the dark underbelly of hate and the process we can use to undo the damage of bigotry.
The film follows Byron “Pitbull” Widner (Bell) a white supremacist who hangs out with a small gang in Ohio and who commits various hate crimes for the furtherment of the white race. When he falls in love with Julie Price (Macdonald), he begins to question what he’s been taught his whole life and look for ways out of this life. Due to the stranglehold that Byron’s gang has on his life, it’s not easy for him to get out of this and creates most of his conflict for the 110 minute runtime. When you have a movie focused around a central character, it’s crucial that the lead performance carries the movie and sets the tone for every scene and luckily Bell does that. The inner turmoil that he faces choosing between a life that’s been everything he knows or leaving all of that behind to be with someone he loves is something we’ve seen before, but not necessarily in this lens. I applaud Bell for taking on such as difficult role, especially with what had to be done to his face, and leaning into it to the point where we believe him every step of the way. Outside of Bell, Nattiv’s ability to understand the basic human interactions and fears that people face that cause them to act irrationally is outstanding and does a fantastic job of showing the true path to defeating bigotry. I’m a strong advocate that people fall into the trap of hatred through various paths such as fear, desperation, and ignorance, and Skin shows the proper response to this type of behavior and that it’s never too late to turn things around. Considering Byron is a real person and he went through both the emotional and physical changes depicted in the movie, I find it that much more incredible that someone so ingrained in a lifestyle can break free for the right motivations. I know this movie has nothing to do with Nattiv’s Oscar-winning short film of the same title, but based on the premise I can see Nattiv emerging into the spotlight on films dealing with other social issues. Some people may see this movie as not subtle enough to make an impact, but when you’re dealing with a man that looks and thinks like Byron, sometimes subtlety isn’t always the best approach.
Overall, I’m still stunned that A24 didn’t showcase Skin more publicly. It has enough starpower and recognizable names to attract an audience and a message people can relate to. Sure it’s not a perfect movie and there’s a risk at making your protagonist a white supremacist, but in the context of life Skin shows us the value of change and the type of metamorphosis someone can go through when they let love into their heart. I’m used to seeing Bell in more benevolent and digestible roles, so seeing him in something more complex and morally ambiguous shows us that Skin may be the start of a more prolific career for him in the future.
Overall Score: 7/10