Although it shares the same name and shares a cast member, Guy Nattiv’s English-language debut feature Skin is very different from his 2018 Oscar-winning short. That said, Nattiv still uses this film to provide effective and thought-provoking commentary on the state of race relations in America.
This movie is about a man who was raised in a white supremacist group and, as an adult, decides that for which the group stands is wrong and turns his back against his family. Although the main story is ultimately weighed down by an ineffective romantic subplot, the protagonist’s story is certainly very compelling. The primary message of the film, that people can change for the better regardless of their past mistakes, is inspiring and hopeful.
Although the first hour of the movie does drag somewhat, the second half is much more well-paced. It takes a while for the conflict to get moving, but once it does, there is a ton of suspense and the film kicks it into high gear. It is easy to get drawn into the story because of how intense it is. Granted, these situations are ones we have seen before, but they are still effective and impactful.
Perhaps the main reason why this movie works is that the protagonist is developed quite well. It certainly isn’t an easy feat to make a former white supremacist feel sympathetic or compelling, but Nattiv manages to do just that by highlighting the redemption arc. In the beginning of the film, the focus is on the character’s moral compass and potential to do good, and as he does grow and develop into a better person, you become more attached to him.
As such, this movie hits all of its intended emotional beats. Many times over the course of the film, you will be left angry (on purpose) at the atrocities you are seeing committed. One of the best ways to start a conversation regarding the theme is to show something so incendiary that people won’t be able to stop talking about that, and there is one such scene in this movie. However, you will also feel tremendous sadness at points in the film, particularly as the protagonist experiences his lows and dark nights of the soul.
Jamie Bell delivers an impressively nuanced lead performance in what is a career-best turn for him. Bell’s ability to flip from opposite ends of the spectrum within a matter of seconds is truly awe-inspiring. One second, he will be lovable and approachable and the next, you’ll be holding your breath in fear of him. This is exactly what the character needed to land. He is also complemented by a very good supporting cast including Danielle Macdonald, Bill Camp, and Vera Farmiga.
It is on a technical level that this movie doesn’t exactly land. Nattiv attempts to do some ambitious things with the editing, but eventually, this does more harm than good, causing the narrative structure to become warped and the timeline to feel confusing. Additionally, there are a few scenes that have some ambitious visuals, but those are so few in number that they stick out in a bad way.
The feature Skin may not match the creativity or boldness of the short, but since the feature is based on a true story and the short was not, Nattiv’s feature ends up approaching the issue of racism from a more personal and emotional perspective. If you are up for a think piece, this is definitely a film that you will want to check out.
Skin is now available on VOD and opens in theaters on July 26.