on September 27, 2002 by Annlee Ellingson
   Director Chris Eyre and writer Sherman Alexie's first feature film, "Smoke Signals," debuted at Sundance in 1998, taking home the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy. The duo returned to Sundance this year separately with their respective follow-up films, "Skins" and "The Business of Fancydancing." Eyre's "Skins" more closely resembles their previous collaboration, once again examining a close brotherly relationship on an Indian reservation.

   "Skins" is set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where, a century ago, 300 people--mostly women and children--were massacred at Wounded Knee by the Seventh Cavalry, an act that was rewarded by the U.S. government with Congressional Medals of Honor. Today on the rez, according to the film, 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the average life span is 15 years shorter than most Americans', the mean annual income is $2,600 a year, there's a 75 percent unemployment rate and death due to alcohol is nine times the national average.

   Despite the rampant destitution of his surroundings, Rudy Yellow Lodge (Eric Schweig) has carved out a respectable living, serving his community as an investigator with the local police department. His brother Mogie (Graham Greene) has not been as lucky, falling into a pattern of alcoholism that plagues so many of his peers.

   When a young kid winds up dead in his jurisdiction, Rudy is dissatisfied with the official channels of justice and, inhabited by the Trickster spirit, becomes an anonymous vigilante (a confession that elicits guffaws from his brother). Rudy's deeds grow bolder as his anger and frustration swell, until his vandalism strikes too close to home.

   Eyre and screenwriter Jennifer D. Lyne have humanized the statistics enumerated early in the film, putting a face to the stereotypes. Greene delivers a typically solid performance in a role that is a bit of a departure from the noble characters he has played in the past, and he is matched by Schweig, who carries the film on his broad, handsome shoulders.

   Unfortunately, Eyre's packaging is a bit sloppy. The Trickster's power is not fully explained nor exploited. For example, the spirit continues to wield its control even after Rudy participates in a sweat lodge to rid himself of it. Eyre does, however, close with an evocative and indelible image that makes a great poster. Starring Graham Greene, Eric Schweig, Nathaniel Arcand and Michelle Thrush. Directed Chris Eyre. Written by Jennifer D. Lyne. Produced by Jon Kilik. A First Look release. Comedy/drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 84 min

Tags: Eric Schweig, Nathaniel Arcand, Michelle Thrush. Directed Chris Eyre, Written by Jennifer D. Lyne, Produced by Jon Kilik, Graham Greene

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