With fast-paced editing and a sharp script, the made-for-TV SKIN makes an interesting drama of New York's infamous Howard Beach case.
The film begins in late 1986, when three black men, whose car has broken down, wander into a pizzeria in the Howard Beach section of Queens. No sooner have they left the restaurant than they are taunted and threatened by a group of white youths. One of the black men, Michael Griffith, is chased
onto a highway and killed by a passing car, and another, Cedric Sandiford (Joe Morton), is savagely beaten.
After the white boys are arrested, Joe Hynes (Daniel J. Travanti) is asked to prosecute them for the city. Hynes' first order of business is to pressure one of them, Robert Riley (Kurt Naebig), to turn evidence against the others. Riley's version of the story holds up, and Hynes decides to
prosecute for murder. But as the trial begins, things start to go wrong for Hynes. Sandiford has trouble remembering details, while the other victim, Timothy Grimes (Anthony Russell Jr.), admits to pulling a knife on the white group. Eventually, however, Hynes is able to locate an eyewitness to
Sandiford's beating and Griffith's death, and the jury finds three of the four defendants guilty of second-degree manslaughter.
SKIN was originally aired on TV in 1989 under the title HOWARD BEACH: MAKING THE CASE FOR MURDER. Despite the weaker title, SKIN hums along by keeping fairly close to the facts of the case and rarely becoming bogged down in details. Except for several slow scenes showing Hynes's domestic life,
there are few wasted moments. The often complex legal points are well described. Also, though the filmmakers are obviously on the side of Hynes, neither he nor the victims are shown to be completely faultless.
Credit for this above-average TV movie should go to director Dick Lowry and especially editor Byron Brandt, whose wham-bam style keeps what could be a slow legal drama moving like an action film. Travanti is sharp in his portrayal of Hynes, as is the always-interesting Morton as Sandiford. Some
might quibble over the few amalgam characters used, but SKIN gets closer to the heart of the matter than do most docudramas. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: With fast-paced editing and a sharp script, the made-for-TV SKIN makes an interesting drama of New York's infamous Howard Beach case. The film begins in late 1986, when three black men, whose car has broken down, wander into a pizzeria in the Howard Beach… (more)