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    High rez

    "Skins," Chris Eyre's followup to "Smoke Signals," attempts to focus on American Indian life in a new way, with mixed dramatic results.


    (Originally reviewed in the 2002 Human Rights Watch Film Festival.)

    Some 60 miles southeast of Mount Rushmore's looming monuments to Democracy stands Pine Ridge, a reservation of poverty-stricken Native Americans that is, according to Chris Eyre's film "Skins," one of the most repressed counties in the nation. With the mean annual income only $2,600, the inhabitants of Pine Ridge live way below the poverty line. Unemployment is at 75 percent here, crime is commonplace, alcoholism runs rampant.

    It's this unusual setting that differentiates "Skins" from your typical domestic drama, yet it's nevertheless an unremarkable one despite two strong lead performances by Eric Schweig as a rural South Dakota "rez" cop turned vigilante and his pathetic older brother, a Vietnam vet turned alcoholic played by the dependable Graham Greene (of "Dances with Wolves" or almost any film requiring a strong Native American presence).

    Directed by: Chris Eyre.
    Written by: Jennifer D. Lyne, Adrian C. Lewis, based on the book by Adrian C. Lewis.
    Cast: Graham Greene, Eric Schweig, Michelle Thrush, Nathaniel Arcand, Noah Watts..

    Related links: All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Eyre's film starts out briskly enough, almost like a documentary (perhaps it would have been better as one?), with soaring helicopter shots of the breathtaking South Dakota Badlands juxtaposed against the ramshackle shacks of Pine Ridge, a TV announcer's voice effectively recounting the startling statistics — 40% of the residents live in sub-standard conditions, death by alcohol is nine times the national average, life expectancy is 15 years less here than elsewhere. Like Michael Apted's superior Incident at Oglala the film was actually shot in and around the Pine Ridge reservation itself, home of the Lakota Sioux and the famed massacre of Wounded Knee, where over 100 Lakota men, women, and children lost their lives. As a result Skins is part documentary by default and never less than interesting.

    But it loses momentum as soon as it settles into its traditional narrative of Rudy Yellow Lodge (Schweig) breaking up domestic brawls while keeping tabs on his drunk and disorderly brother Mogie who, since Pine Ridge is "dry," chugs cans of Colt 45 two miles away in the border town of Whileclay, Nebraska (which, coincidentally, lays claim to one of the country's largest beer distributors!).

    Minor characters are introduced — Mogie's 17-year-old son Herbie (Noah Watts), Rudy's sister-in-law Stella (Michelle Thrush), with whom the troubled cop is having an affair — but for the most part the film focuses on the relationship between the two brothers and what happens when one of Rudy's renegade actions tragically backfires.

    Perhaps the plot, however hackneyed, should be viewed as an excuse for the director (who made the engaging "Smoke Signals" in 1998) to conceal his political rage. By simply sitting back and observing, much like the impassive stone busts of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, Eyre judges not but speaks volumes about the plight of his fellow Native Americans. And with a White Mountain Apache currently in federal prison charged with setting the forest fire that destroyed hundreds of thousands of Arizona acres the film takes on an even more ominous, controversial tone. As a spokesman for the Oglala Sioux imparts towards the beginning of the film, "I believe America is big enough, is powerful enough, is rich enough to really deal with the American Indian in a way it should be done."

    Skins — which is written by Jennifer D. Lyne based on the novel by Adrian C. Louis, features an authentic Native American score by B.C. Smith, and is distributed by First Look Pictures — attempts to do just that.

    AUGUST 31, 2002

    Reader comments on Skins:

  • Butterworth's review   from Terri, Mar 26, 2003
  • Re: Butterworth's review   from Jean, May 26, 2003
  • Re: Butterworth's review   from Gary, May 26, 2003
  • Can't see it ???????   from Badger, May 26, 2003
  • Re: Can't see it ???????   from Brittany, Jul 11, 2003
  • Re: Can't see it ???????   from Mark, Oct 5, 2003
  • Re: Can't see it ???????   from Vivian, Aug 14, 2004
  • Great movie   from Len, Oct 10, 2003
  • Skins   from Ash, Dec 4, 2003
  • help   from Daneille, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: help   from mike, Aug 27, 2005
  • the way of life on the REZ   from Frances, Nov 29, 2004
  • Re: the way of life on the REZ   from Julie, Jan 31, 2009
  • Re: the way of life on the REZ   from Djominick, Oct 13, 2009
  • SKINS film review   from lester, Feb 7, 2005
  • Re: SKINS film review   from mike, Aug 27, 2005
  • Re: SKINS film review   from Rob, Sep 20, 2006
  • great movie   from mike, Aug 27, 2005
  • Skins   from Ann, Nov 8, 2005
  • Awesom!!!   from Audrey, Dec 16, 2005
  • [no subject]   from ldfrez, Mar 28, 2006
  • skins   from maressa, Feb 6, 2007
  • [no subject]   from RezRidah, Mar 5, 2007
  • The Best ever   from Vanessa Keith, May 7, 2007

  • Post a comment on "Skins"