Skins

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Skins

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Skins

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Director Chris Eyre's follow-up to the 1998 sleeper hit Smoke Signals, Skins stars Eric Schweig as a Native American police officer given the impossible task of preserving order on a reservation where poverty, alcoholism, and hopelessness have rendered the American dream a cruel joke. Schweig's dogged idealism begins to fade as he deals with an endless cycle of domestic rows and drunken scuffles revealing the lingering scars of racism and genocide. When his bosses look the other way following the death of a local kid, he snaps and becomes a vigilante. Schweig exacts vengeance on the boy's teenage killers as they loudly discuss his murder, but when he sets a parasitic liquor store on fire, he accidentally burns Graham Greene, his irascible alcoholic brother. Set in the shadow of Mount Rushmore (an irony the film is too ham-fisted to let its audience forget), Skins is earnest and clumsy, which would be a lot more forgivable if Eyre were a neophyte, rather than the director of one of the highest-profile independent films of the past five years. A confused jumble of family melodrama, magical realism, vigilante drama, neo-realism, and slice-of-life comedy, Skins lurches forward erratically without settling on a consistent tone. With the exception of Greene and Schweig, who start stiffly but gain momentum and power as the film progresses, the actors deliver painfully amateurish performances, exacerbated by flat dialogue and awkward staging. Eyre's tendency toward long takes and static camera work only magnifies the film's flaws, particularly a script that spells out its themes and fumbles its exposition. In a typically stilted bit of dialogue, Schweig's married lover—who pops up and disappears without explanation—tells him, "I don't know how you do it, being a cop every day and dealing with an alcoholic brother." Stephen Kazmierski's evocative cinematography and B.C. Smith's original music lend the film downbeat atmosphere, but the veneer of professionalism evaporates every time a supporting player opens his or her mouth. Intermittently affecting almost in spite of itself, Skins is most successful when dealing with the complicated bond between Greene and Schweig, whose relationship rings true like little else in the film.

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