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In "Skin," a neo-Nazi turns from hate: Good intentions can't redeem this disaster of a film

2 5 0
27.07.2019

Given the racism erupting all over in America right now, a film like “Skin” — about a man exiting the white power movement — might seem timely. Or prudent. Or perhaps calculated. But who exactly is a film like “Skin” made for? Can this drama actually change any minds? One might hope, but this head-scratching feature, inspired by the true story of Bryon Widner, is too misguided to be truly effective.

Widner (Jamie Bell) is a midwestern skinhead with racist facial and body tattoos. He turned his back on the movement after falling in love with Julie (Danielle Macdonald) and her three daughters. He cooperated with the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center, informing on his “social club” and benefitting from an anonymous woman’s largess that allowed him to undergo numerous tattoo removal treatments to start “a new life.” It is an inspiring story about a person changing. An 2011 MSNBC documentary, “Erasing Hate,” previously told Widner’s story.

“Skin,” however, while well-intended, is an unholy mess. The film is poorly written, conceived, and directed by Guy Nattiv, who won an Oscar earlier this year for his exasperating, manipulative short film, also titled “Skin,” about a white supremacist. But the feature and the short have almost nothing in common (aside from a few cast members, Macdonald among them). Both the short and the feature, “Skin,” are jaw-dropping, confounding experiences that aim to make grand statements about race, but do so clumsily and without insight or depth.

The pre-title sequence of Nattiv’s feature opens in Columbus, OH, with a riot. White supremacists chanting “Blood and Soil!” as they approach a group of African Americans, including Daryle Jenkins (Mike Colter), whom we later learn is an activist and founder of the One People's Project, a real hate group-monitoring organization. “F**k off back to your porch, Jenkins!” commands Bryon “Babs” Widner. Bryon soon chases and violently beats a 14-year-old........

© Salon