Skin review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Skin places me in a tough position. On one hand, yes, it is inspiring the picture biographs the life of how former Neo-Nazi Bryon "Pitbull" Widner found his way out of hate and dedicated his life to doing more good than harm for the world. At the same time, however, this film doesn’t present much of what we haven’t already seen before in the likes of American History X. The reformation of rejecting a family bound by the worst of humanity seems like it holds more water as a believable and relatable tale, though never digging as deep as it really should. Such distancing leaves an uncomfortable taste in the mouth.
This is not to say that Pitbull’s journey is not an important one, the lead being played by Jamie Bell. Spread throughout the picture is a jump in time where he is having his Nazi tattoos removed in a painful process of trying to erase the future. It’s not easy but doesn’t that seem obvious? The majority of the picture takes place during Pitbull’s comfy position within his closed Neo-Nazi family to his inevitable escape before things get too rough. A romance between him and the single mother Julie (Danielle Macdonald) may be exactly what he needs to realize love trumps hate.
I suppose one could give points for the picture making Pitbull’s reluctant adventure out fairly realistic. He doesn’t outright reject his Nazi family at first, merely shoving them away and trying to keep them separate from Julie and her kids. Julie, fearing for her safety, wants to keep Pitbull’s lifestyle at a distance. She’s right to be terrified. When she awakens at his place to notice the Neo-Nazis are waiting for him outside for a job, she freaks out and runs someplace else with her children. Later, they will be targeted by the Neo-Nazis as they view them as targets who may squeal. This life will not last; either Pitbull leaves his family, Julie leaves Pitbull or they all die at the hands of hate.
Again, I’m sure a lot of credit should be given for focusing squarely on Pitbull as the a don’t-do-this movie for reforming Nazis. For everyone else, however, who grew up being able to discern that white supremacy was both a childish philosophy and violent strategy, this seems far too 101. By merely presenting the surface-level tale of how Nazis are bad because they’ll probably kill you, the film misses a chance to address the why. Why do some white men become so effortlessly attracted to the Neo-Nazi movement? Why is it a movement that will not survive in its lack of foresight and reliance on rage? More importantly, how important is it to leave? The film’s presentation merely suggests that a romance can’t survive under Nazi rule and that authorities will close in on the unhinged. That’s an immediate reason to leave, sure, but never tackles the subject much more than that.
Skin has its poignant moments of taking note of how our actions affect children and how hate cannot stay strong in the face of something more profound. Within its narrative is perhaps a conclusion too comfy. Pitbull makes it out alive, reforms his ways, removes his tattoos, and the Neo-Nazis all die. But is life really that easy? Neo-Nazis are still present and more vocal than ever. Pitbull continues to speak out against hate at seminars and speakings. There’s a bigger conversation that is only given mere whispers in this sometimes effective drama.