A bracing, thinking man's thriller, this neo-noir deals with a morally barren crime photographer who specializes in vehicular homicide and blackmail until he is forced to empathize with those he has abused. The film premiered on HBO and was subsequently released on home video in 1998.
Freelance photographer Johnny Skidmarks (Peter Gallagher) shoots car crashes for police detectives Larry Skovik (John Lithgow) and Woody Washawski (Geoffrey Lower). Off the job, he is also part of a blackmail ring masterminded by Walter Lippinscott (John Kapelos). Along with Walter's driver Earl
(Bill Robertson) and Lorraine (Charlie Spradling), a hooker, Johnny sets up and photographs cheating husbands at motel trysts; Walter uses the photos to extort money or favors for Mafia associates.
Johnny finds Lorraine and Earl's corpses in death sites he is photographing. Worried, he uncharacteristically opens up about his past to Alice (Frances McDormand), a night owl who has begun frequenting the all-night greasy spoon where Johnny hangs out. Johnny continues confiding in this
self-proclaimed lush until he spots a photo of her father, who bears an uncanny resemblance to one of Walter's long-forgotten marks. Johnny mistakenly suspects Alice of being behind the killings of his associates, and stops confiding in her.
After Walter and his attorney are killed, Johnny tells Detective Skovik about the blackmail racket. Suspecting either contumelious Washawski or mysterious Alice, Johnny fesses up about his profitable part-time gig. Shockingly, the hearty Skovik is Johnny's tormentor. The toupeed cop lost his wife
and his honor in the aftermath of being snapped by Johnny, who didn't even recognize Skovik without his hairpiece. Skovik admits this to Johnny, and then savagely beats him up. Although Johnny flees, Skovik follows him by car to Alice's apartment where Johnny is turned away. Skovik knocks him
unconscious and transports him to an abandoned building. By the time, Washawski stumbles upon a candid photo of Skovik in Johnny's mementos, Skovik is preparing to reeducate cold-hearted Johnny with sledge hammers, etc. Before the first blow, Washawski pumps Skovik full of lead. Transformed by his
injuries and his comprehension of the suffering he blindly caused others, Johnny renews his relationship with Alice.
In most crime dramas, survival is the key issue, but here, Johnny has made an art out of "just getting by." This dark-hearted film addresses the high cost of survival, when its price is paid by the people you victimize. Benefiting from tart dialogue, the screenplay explores Johnny's conscious
decision to shut down his emotions, before tracing the reawakening of his dormant humanity, via his encounters with those who have been victimized by his actions.
As the defensive loner Johnny, Peter Gallagher has his best role in years and draws the audience into the character's flawed perspective. John Lithgow registers like a witch-hunter from Salem in a bone-chilling performance, while the superb supporting cast rises to his level in more narrowly
conceived roles. The film sputters a bit at the climax as Johnny keeps escaping Skovik's clutches, and Frances McDormand's shadowy role could be more fully integrated into the story line. Aside from these slipping cogs, this movie's suspense mechanism grinds away full blast. Daring the audience to
ponder a conundrum about personal responsibility, JOHNNY SKIDMARKS pays big dividends to crime buffs willing to invest their intelligence in a philosophical thriller. (Graphic violence, extreme profanity, extensive nudity, substance abuse, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1998
- Rating: R
- Review: A bracing, thinking man's thriller, this neo-noir deals with a morally barren crime photographer who specializes in vehicular homicide and blackmail until he is forced to empathize with those he has abused. The film premiered on HBO and was subsequently re… (more)