Skin: Learning to Unlearn the Hate

Jamie Bell in Skin. Courtesy of A24.

Skin, based on a true story, isn’t an easy subject to tackle during an era that takes place following the horrible tragedy in Charlottesville.

Filmmaker Guy Nattiv is the descendant of Holocaust survivors.  He grew up listening to his grandparents’ stories.  It is because of this that Bryon Widner’s (Jamie Bell, who met Widner on the day of the Charlottesville rally) story caught his interest.  How often do we learn of neo-Nazi’s learning to undo their hatred?!?  While this should make for an interesting premise, it’s harder to watch after Charlottesville happened.  The incident happened in August 2017 with “very fine people on both sides” in the words of the man currently residing in the White House.

Nattiv stays true to Widner’s story with some exceptions.  Biopics may be based on a true story but nothing will ever truly perfect.  Key points of Widner’s life are true in the film–how he became a neo-Nazi and how he met Julie Price (Danielle Macdonald).  Another change is the initial meeting between Widner and Alt-Right: Age of Rage protagonist/One People’s Project founder Daryle Lamont Jenkins.  Jenkins plays a key role in getting Widner to leave this life of hatred behind.  Without Jenkins, who knows what would have happened.  While Bryon has left behind that life, make no mistake that it has lasting effects.  According to the film’s press notes, Nattiv is developing a series on the life and work of the One People’s Project founder!

With what Bill Camp and Vera Farmiga bring to their performances as skinhead cult leaders Fred and Shareen Krager, one can possibly see how somebody could get sucked into this world.  We can only hope that this film provides more insight even from a narrative perspective.

Under no circumstances is Skin considered to be an easy watch.  It’s one thing to say that this man unlearns his racist ways.  The other thing is that we seem undergo procedures of getting his tattoos removed.  Can one willingly leave behind this life?  This is only one of many questions.  What happens when you’re able to help these people?  Obviously, there are those people that do not wish to change.  But what if we’re able to get through to someone?  Is change possible?

Some of my problems with Skin also come with the format in which I viewed it.  I didn’t attend a film festival screening because I thought it would screen again for press later on.  Oy, how I was wrong!  The film was only offered as a link a few days before release.  Watching this two hour long film on a small screen doesn’t do it proper justice.  A film like this requires distraction-free viewing.  Moreover, the audio kept getting drained out by the window air conditioning unit.  As such, my viewing experience was less than ideal than it should have been.  I wasn’t about to disturb neighbors by continually raising the volume.

While Skin does tell a story of redemption with a more-than-capable performance from Jamie Bell, I have a hard time imagining viewers rushing to watch this film.

CAST:  Jamie Bell, Danielle Macdonald, Daniel Henshall, Bill Camp, Louisa Krause, Zoe Colletti, Kylie Rogers, Colbi Gannett, with Mike Colter and Vera Farmiga

A24 and DirecTV released Skin in theaters on July 26, 2019. Grade: 3/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.