Skins

On the surface, Chis Eyre's powerful follow-up to his acclaimed 1998 debut, SMOKE SIGNALS, is the story of two brothers whose paths diverged dramatically, but the pain of the contemporary Native American experience bleeds from every frame. Less than a hundred miles south of Mount Rushmore, that mighty symbol of the U.S. government carved into South Dakota's...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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On the surface, Chis Eyre's powerful follow-up to his acclaimed 1998 debut, SMOKE SIGNALS, is the story of two brothers whose paths diverged dramatically, but the pain of the contemporary Native American experience bleeds from every frame. Less than a hundred miles south of Mount Rushmore, that mighty symbol of the U.S. government carved into South Dakota's sacred Black Hills, sprawls one the poorest communities in the nation: the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Home to the Oglala Lakota people, the reservation suffers under a staggering 75% unemployment rate — per capita income is estimated at a shocking $2600 — and the average life expectancy is 15 years lower than in the rest of the country. Understandably, alcoholism and depression are rampant. Rudy Yellow Lodge (Eric Schweig) and his brother Mogie (Graham Greene) were both raised in Pine Ridge, but their adult lives are very different. Rudy is a respected cop with the Pine Ridge Police department and sits on the tribal council; Mogie, a thrice-decorated Vietnam veteran, is a full-time drunk who hocked his Purple Hearts for booze money. When a teenage boy is found kicked to death in an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere, Rudy decides to exact a little rogue justice: He follows his two suspects out into the desert in the middle of the night, then beats them both with a baseball bat. Spooked by their unseen attacker, the boys turn themselves in. Rudy thinks he might be possessed by a mischievous spirit, but nevertheless imagines himself a Lakota vigilante, performing deeds that he imagines will somehow better the lives of his people. But when he decides to torch the liquor store that's been supplying Mogie, his actions have tragic consequences. Like SMOKE SIGNALS, the films works both as an engaging drama and an incisive look at the difficulties facing Native Americans. Rudy's job allows Eyre to offer glimpses of the painful reality of "rez" life, particularly the ravages of alcoholism and the domestic violence. Interestingly, the film also takes issue with the white owners of the liquor stores that border "dry" reservations like Pine Ridge, self-serving entrepreneurs who profit from the misery of Lakota Sioux in the time-honored tradition of Native American exploitation. Serious stuff indeed, but the film is also rich with humor — most of it courtesy of the always-excellent Greene — and ends with an act of vandalism as shocking as it is exhilarating.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: R
  • Review: On the surface, Chis Eyre's powerful follow-up to his acclaimed 1998 debut, SMOKE SIGNALS, is the story of two brothers whose paths diverged dramatically, but the pain of the contemporary Native American experience bleeds from every frame. Less than a hund… (more)

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