"Skins," Chris Eyre's followup to "Smoke Signals," attempts to focus on American Indian life in a new way, with mixed dramatic results.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
(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
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.
|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
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|
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Reader comments on Skins:
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