Carved into a sacred mountain in South Dakota, four heads that typify “liberty and justice for all” loom over Pine Ridge Indian Reservation like a bad joke. Nobody feels the painful punch line more than Mogie Yellow Lodge (Graham Greene), an Oglala Sioux Indian with a mind short-circuited by Vietnam, and a kind heart surrounded by old wounds and cheap alcohol. Mogie’s younger brother, Rudy (Eric Schweig), is taking a different tactic with life, trying to change things by policing his alcoholic, abusive and poverty-stricken people, which includes keeping his brother in line. But within this mundane existence, there’s still enough room for a spiritual trickster to creep and crawl its way in, causing Rudy to backslide into unsavory acts.
Like Chris Eyre’s first feature film, Smoke Signals, Skins (adapted from Adrian Louis’ book of the same name) has a naive feel, like a child with an important message to tell. It’s not bothered by inconsistent acting, or a clichéd-to-bad line of dialogue every few moments. As a project utilizing Native American actors, writing and direction, the film’s faults are easy to forgive because the intentions are lofty — trying to lift a community from squalor to the stately height of national contemplation.
Rudy and Mogie illustrate two different — sometimes opposing, but ultimately complementary — stages of healing within a community still grieving over scars left by colonialism, assimilation and the massacre at Wounded Knee. They can’t stand where the other is at, but they need each other, to remind themselves of their own flaws, and to lick their wounds through verdicts of divine justice.
Everyone in Skins thinks that what they do is justified, but it’s hard to decide who’s right and what’s fair, and if that bad idea is coming from the pain of a cultural scar, or a tricky spider sent to mess with your mind.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].