Toronto: Jamie Bell Gives an Awards-Friendly Turn in Acquisition Title 'Skin'

Eighteen years after playing a dancing schoolboy in 'Billy Elliot,' the actor portrays a white nationalist yearning to break free of his tribe in a film that was greeted with a rousing standing ovation.
Courtesy of TIFF

Skin, Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv's drama about an American who is born into a family of white supremacists and later tries to break free of it, had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday morning. Based on the huge standing ovation it received at the Winter Garden Theatre — even before one of the heroes of the true story that inspired the film was brought on stage — it seems like this acquisition title might find not only a buyer here, but also some awards traction for Jamie Bell's lead performance as the eponymous skinhead, Bryon Widner.

In case you didn't get the message from last year's Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool in which he stars, 32-year-old Bell, who moviegoers first met as a cute dancing kid in 2000's Billy Elliot, is all grown up now, and in Skin — rocking a shaved head, tattoo-covered body and don't-fuck-with-me attitude — he does a very convincing job of portraying a character of the sort who marched in favor of white nationalism in Charlottesville.

There's always the chance that awards voters will be too repelled by the subject matter to want to give the film much consideration at all. Indeed, many of the characters are fools — not only the leaders of Widner's family (the great character actors Bill Camp and Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga), but also the "good woman" with whom he becomes romantically involved (Danielle McDonald), who displays highly suspect judgment in repeatedly subjecting herself and her three young daughters to these people and situations. In a way, this film, like White Boy Rick, is about the failure of the American educational system and how Donald Trump wound up in the White House. Another major concern is that this film, like Paul Greengrass22 July, about a right-wing terrorist, while undoubtedly intending to serve as a cautionary tale, nevertheless provides a platform for the views of the people it ultimately condemns.

None of this, however, negates the fact that Bell fulfills his assignment extremely well — indeed, it is a testament to his performance that the audience winds up rooting for him as an antifascist activist named Daryle Lamont Jenkins (Mike Colter of Luke Cage) methodically tries to lure him into the light. Should the film find a buyer that releases it before the end of the year, Bell, his savvy publicists and the film's producers — including the terrific Israeli-American filmmaker Oren Moverman and Maven Pictures' savvy Celine Rattray and Trudie Styler — could mount a strong argument on his behalf.

 

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