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  • Skins
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on September 20, 2002
I just saw this film at the Native American Museum in New York during it's premiere in this city. It's an amazing film. Darker and more thought provoking than Smoke Signals, it still maintains the sense of humor so characteristic of Chris Eyre's work. The story takes place in Pine Ridge County, SD, which is, as we quickly learn from the film, the poorest county in the United States. It is also Oglala Lakota Indian reservation. The film is shot on location, with all the starkness of the surroundings carefully exposed. The narrative revolves around two brothers. Rudy (Eric Schweig) is a cop and a vigilante, who is using legal and extra-legal means to help his community. Moggy (Graham Greene) is a triple Purple Heart Vietnam veteran and a chronic alcoholic who tries to maintain a sense of humor in face of misery and depression. Deep love between the brothers serves as the backbone of the plot. Things get out of hand when Rudy's vigilantism causes Moggy's suffering. Chris Eyre employs both tragic and comic elements to give the film a fresh and unique dynamic. And a provocative ending.
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on November 5, 2004
Native American director Chris Eyre has created another excellent film about life on the reservation, told from the Indian point of view. Other reviews here represent the content of the film well, its story line involving two brothers and its social commentary, exposing the impact of poverty and alcoholism on the Lakota Sioux descendants of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

The movie, however, provides only a partial view of the book it's based on by Indian writer, Adrian Louis. His novel, "Skins," has enough material for a 10-part miniseries. It immerses the reader in the deeper complexities of its subject matter, exploring the dimensions of its characters more thoroughly (and with darker humor) and conveying a great deal more about life on the reservation, with its compelling mix of Indian and white cultures and the resulting ambiguities, competing world views, and conflicted values. It is significant that Iktomi, the trickster spirit and shape-shifter, is a central theme in both novel and film, for appearance and reality, wisdom and stupidity, pride and shame, love and rage are all in a continuing dance for dominance.

Rudy, the Indian cop, portrays these confusing conflicts beautifully, representing both the law in his tribal police uniform and vigilante justice in his blackface and pantyhose mask. The author's book explores other dimensions of Rudy's confusion by letting us learn more about his relationships with women. In the novel he is married and estranged from his wife, and we follow the rocky ups and downs of his growing attraction to his cousin's wife, Stella, while he carries on with other men's wives as well. Afflicted with hypertension, he takes meds that affect his sexual performance, and much of the novel traces the rising and falling cycles of his libido, all of which are unpredictable and seemingly under the spell of Iktomi. Finally, while the film makes clear the love that bonds Rudy to his brother Mogie, the depth of that love comes across more strongly in the novel, as well as the demons that haunt Mogie and produce brotherly conflict.

See the movie first, so you can more easily visualize the world that Adrian Louis describes and enjoy the wonderful performances of Eric Schweig and Graham Greene. Then read the book and allow yourself to know this subject and comprehend the Lakota culture more deeply. The ending, involving Mt. Rushmore, which is given an abruptly abbreviated treatment in the movie, will also make a lot more sense.
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This 2002 film takes place on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota. It's a sad place, steeped in poverty and alcoholism. The camera brings us into the dilapidated homes and shows us the barren terrain. And the Director, Chris Eyre, has wisely chosen an all-Native cast. Don't be fooled by their Anglican sounding names. They're all Indians, either from America or Canada.
The story is about two brothers in their late forties. One is a cop and the other is a burnt-out alcoholic who sometimes thinks he's still in Vietnam. Flashbacks show their abusive childhood and their dependence on one another. The storyline shows us how Eric Schweig, cast as the cop brother, helps his brother over and over again. Graham Greene is cast as the alcoholic and even though we see him mostly drunk and creating chaos for everyone, get to know him as a real person with hopes and dreams and missteps along the way.
We learn about life on the reservation and the history of the massacre at Wounded Knee. And we also learn why the Mt. Rushmore carving of the four American presidents is so upsetting to the Indians who see rocks as sacred. As the story moves along, we see the cop brother become a vigilante and solve a murder investigation. Later, he sets a liquor store on fire. When his brother is burned in the fire, the story comes to a pivotal point and we get a glimpse of the unwavering love of the brothers for each other and the sense of family in the entire community.
This is a thoughtful movie that's a bit uncomfortable to watch. It left me sad and pensive. And yet it taught me something too. Recommended.
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on February 23, 2003
Those are the word of my 78 year old grandmother who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Rez. This film reminds me of the place where I learned so much about my culture, and had so much fun with my cousins. This exploration into the community, should be seen by those who desire a glimpse into modern rez life. Wounded Knee happened only a little over a hundred years ago, and genocide did not end with the massacre. White Clay sets the example as this town is filthy rich, dependent on alcoholics for profit. They do not care how many Indians die, just like Lincoln did not care when he mass-hanged the Sioux. Carved into Paha Sapa, Mount Rushmore, is the ghosts of 4 presidents (including Ol' Abe) who face the east over the land of the Oglala Lakota. Some people see this as "mockery", would the Jewish appreciate a huge stone carving of Hitler staring down over Tel-Aviv? Each president has contributed more of less to exterminating the NDN. This movie will hopefully inspire some to see past their 9th grade politics class and learn more about multi-dimensions of U.S. History.
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HALL OF FAMEon February 24, 2004
Shortly after receiving my driver's license I decided to take a road trip through Nebraska. At one point in my journey I suddenly noticed Indians everywhere--driving down the road, sitting in parking lots off the state highway, and standing in front of decrepit looking buildings. "What's going on here?" I said to myself, not knowing at the time that I was cruising through the Winnebago reservation in Northern Nebraska. I always tell this story to friends nowadays, especially ones who champion Native American rights, and it never fails to get a laugh. Why? Because they know most of us rarely encounter Indians, let alone spend any time on reservations. Out here in the Midwest, you will still meet Native Americans from time to time outside of reservations. If you live on the East or West Coast of the United States, however, you probably have little interaction with Indians. Oh, you might have seen one on a college campus, or know someone who knows someone who has some "Indian blood" flowing through their veins, but most Americans have only seen Indians in old photographs or on television. In short, we have little idea about the plight of the modern day Native American. That's why a movie like "Skins" is an important piece of cinema that all of us should watch.
"Skins" focuses on two brothers living on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, just down the road from Mount Rushmore. Pine Ridge is the poorest county in the United States, rife with chronic alcoholism, high infant mortality rates, sky-high unemployment, and low life expectancies. It's a rough place to live and raise a family, a fact Pine Ridge police officer Rudy Yellow Lodge learns anew everyday as he deals with murders, assaults, rapes, and other alcohol and poverty induced rampages. When he isn't fulfilling his duties, he's attempting to deal with his alcoholic older brother Mogie, a Vietnam veteran who always likes to stir up some trouble on the reservation. But Rudy has more problems than putting up with his brother. The police officer is sick to his soul about the abhorrent conditions on the reservation, and one day he decides to do something about it. What Yellow Lodge does is perhaps a series of small gestures, merely a drop of remedy in an ocean of social sickness, but he feels it is good for his sanity and good for his people.
What Rudy does is turn vigilante. The idea comes to him after he falls and hits his head on a rock while pursuing a fugitive in a murder case. From this point forward, Yellow Lodge wreaks havoc on Lakotas who assault their fellow Lakotas. He beats two youths with a baseball bat, breaking their knees in the process, after he learns about their involvement in a heinous crime. A bigger mission concerns the liquor stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska. Since alcohol sales on the reservation are a big no-no, Indians drive down to Whiteclay to buy their poison. Yellow Lodge rapidly tires of seeing his people buy booze at the stores, so he decides to torch one of the businesses in the middle of the night. Like I said, it's a small gesture that won't mean much in the long run (other stores will open for business in the morning as sure as the sun rises), but taking an extreme action makes Rudy feel good about himself. After all, he's a cop sworn "to serve and protect" his people, and what better way to fulfill this promise than to strike a blow against the individuals who make his people's lives miserable. There's a problem with Rudy's willful actions, though. For one thing, they don't entirely embody Lakota virtues. Also, even the best actions have a tendency to hurt the ones we love, and the results of the fire at the liquor store nearly destroy Rudy Yellow Lodge's life.
The performances in "Skins" are excellent. Director Chris Eyre assembled a largely Indian cast for his film, and they all do a good job. Eric Schweig works wonders as the emotionally conflicted Rudy Yellow Lodge. He's so riveting to watch that you immediately feel an empathy with his character even when the guy does some bad things. For the role of Mogie, Eyre cast none other than Graham Greene. A character that is a raging alcoholic with a serious authority problem might not be the easiest role to pull off, but Greene does it with an effortlessness that is startling to watch. Both of these characters move against the backdrop of a reservation clogged with run down houses and shacks, rutted roads, and broken lives. If you think everything is doom and gloom in "Skins," however, you're wrong. Eyre injects the film with an enormous amount of humor, which might come as a surprise. Many people don't associate Native Americans with a sense of humor because they've seen old black and white photos of stone faced Indians awkwardly posing for the camera. "Skins" shows that Indians use humor in part to cope with their difficulties.
It is difficult to watch "Skins" and not feel pity for the residents of Pine Ridge, but Eyre is attempting something more with his picture. Instead of trying to get us to feel sorry for the Lakotas, he wants his audience to know about their problems and how Lakotas live their lives in spite of them. I applaud Chris Eyre for gracing us with this amazingly insightful film about a world far too few of us know about. "Skins" is fascinating, funny, thought provoking, and even--surprise--entertaining. Add this one to your rental/buy list posthaste.
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on August 4, 2003
I recently saw this film and must say that it has become one of my all-time favorite movies, solely for the realisitic portrayal it gives of today's reservations.
Contrary to the report given by an earlier reviewer, Pine Ridge is in SOUTH Dakota, not North. I grew up in South Dakota nearly all my life, and I taught at an Indian school. I saw, sometimes first hand, what the reservation life entailed, and it was depressing. This movie does a good job of encompassing one of the reservation's most prevalent threats at this time: alcoholism.
I've been a fan of Graham Greene ever since Dances With Wolves, although I don't consider that movie a stellar example of historically accurate film making.
For the past few years, I've read about the debate regarding the liquor stores in White Clay, NE. Although I realize that those people may be making a tidy profit off the Indians in Pine Ridge, people must realize that alcoholics will drive ANY distance to get their booze -- White Clay and further. You cannot blame the store owners for providing the booze. You're blaming the wrong people.
For those who don't see the significance of the bear trap scene: I think it is a statement about the current climate of the reservations, the way native people turn against each other in today's depressing reservations. The alcoholism has brought in crime and distrust among the people of the reservations, and it's startling to see the decline.
I gave this film 4 out of 5 stars only because I found the scenes with the main character (Eric Schweig) having an affair as distracting and not relevant. It seems to me as if there should have been more to that story, but there wasn't.
All in all, I would highly recommend this story to anyone interested in Native American history, or in the history of the United States in general.
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on April 7, 2003
Graham Greene was cast in the role of a Lakota (Sioux) Shaman in "Dances with Wolves" with Kevin Costner. The chemistry between Graham and Kevin made the movie what it was, a classic tale about Native Americans. They were a magnificent culture that was crushed needlessly by the migration of Whites to the west. Hundreds of treaties were made and then broken by greedy Whites, resulting in numerous reservations. Graham plays "Mogie" in the movie "Skins," and once again there is the same chemistry between Graham and the lead role of Rudy Yellow Lodge, played by Eric Schweig. Both roles are played in a compelling manner. It is the type of gutsey, independent, outside of Hollywood films that I love. Mogie is a decorated Viet Nam veteran in process of drinking himself to death on what is called the "rez," the Pine Ridge Reservation next to Mount Rushmore and the Custer Monument. Reservation life involves harsh poverty, high unemployment, substance abuse and .... worse yet, Lakota versus Lakota violence. The uncomfortable question this movie poses to its audience is what do you do to rehabilitate a once noble culture after a crushing history of genocide. Or more to the point, support a culture to rehabilitate itself. Lakota actors and actresses making Lakota theme movies is an important step in the right direction.Despite the lack of "polish" afforded to high budget Hollywood movies, I would give "Skins" five stars on pure guts alone. It is a statement the wider White culture desperately needs to consider. The statement is well worth the five stars also. America would do well to learn from such people of the earth who have lived in oneness with nature without pollution for thousands of years. Whatever Graham wants to dance with or wallow in for future movies will probably be well worth the price, as he is a veteran actor at the top of his game. I am also hoping to see Eric again in similar movies.
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VINE VOICEon November 11, 2005
Graham Greene is an amazing actor, and it was very difficult to remember that he was an actor playing a part, and not the character himself.

This film is set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in southern South Dakota near Mt. Rushmore. The Wounded Knee Massacre took place nearby and this reservation is more or less emblematic of the suffering of the American Indians (or Native Americans, if that is what you prefer). The poverty -- discussed in documentary clips and shown in the film's story line -- is mind-boggling. I found myself wondering how could this be and why isn't someone marching on Washington about this? Unable to find jobs in this desolate part of the plains, many turn to alcohol, and the alcohol leads to violence and illness.

And that is the subject of the film. There are two main characters -- brothers. One has become a policeman and more or less has his life together, although he is unmarried and has no children, and he may not be as together as he outwardly seems. The other brother (Graham Greene) is a full-blown non-functioning alcoholic -- a pathetic man in many ways, but also oddly gentle and loved by his family.

Both brothers are reacting, each in his own way, to life on the reservation -- not a terrible place in terms of community, but a place with tremendous social problems rooted in poverty, alcoholism, and cultural issues. Anger is a significant theme throughout the film, but it's a simmering anger, exemplified by caustic comments about Mt. Rushmore -- four white American presidents carved out of the sacred rock of the Black Hills.

The acting is amazing and the film is riveting. Despite the serious subject matter, I wouldn't describe the film as really depressing, in part because of the good humor and the warmth that manages to survive the conditions.

This is a film worth owning.
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VINE VOICEon October 25, 2004
Eric Schweig, in one of his best roles since "Last of the Mohicans" plays dedicated cop and shadow-vigilante Rudy, while trying to holding his family together, including his alcoholic brother Mogie (Graham Greene in a critically underrated performance). Filmed entirely on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, viewers get a sense of the deep bindings of family in Lakota culture along with the deplorable living conditions perpetrated by decades of broken promises and abuse from the American government. Highly recommend, and prepare to be moved.
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on December 6, 2002
I saw Skins last night as part of the Bozeman Film Festival. My wife had read the book and really enjoyed it, so I picked up the book and read it also. The movie was pretty true to the book except for a couple key characters missing. Overall I thought the movies was entertaining except for the low budget they spent on the production. You could definitely tell it was an indie film. Another thing that bothered me was when the characters were explaining the Massacre at Wounded Knee to a boy how upset they got. If you did'nt know better, you would of thought it happened yesterday. Most Lakota's I know, including myself, don't walk around with a intense anger for something that happened over a hundred years ago. Although I think we should never forget what happened. The best part of the movie for me was the end. I won't give that away, let's just say is something every Lakota would love to do.
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