I wonder if she’s thinking, “Why did I ever agree to be in Aeon Flux?”

Golden Mug

Actress (Sophie Okonedo)

Theatrical Release Date: 11/06/2009
Director: Anthony Fabian
Cast: Sophie Okonedo, Alice Krige, Sam Neill, Tony Kgoroge

Race relations and discrimination is a subject far too many people can understand from first hand experience. At some point or another in nearly every civilization, the differences between people are used by some to gain power, fortune or status. One of the most recognized systems of oppression is that of Apartheid in South Africa, which took place from the mid-20th century up until the early 90s. A string of amazing, touching, and heartbreaking films have touched upon different aspects of that period and the latest is “Skin”.

Based on the real life of Sandra Laing, the picture is about a black girl born to a white Afrikaans couple. The racial divides in the country eventually make her attendance at an all white school a legal matter. Her father (Sam Neill), despite his suspicions regarding his wife’s fidelity, fights for her rights – moreso because he doesn’t want a black child than because of his love for Sandra. As she grows into a woman and begins to make her own decisions, she rebels against her parents wishes and marries a black man. From there, it’s one dramatic turn after another which avid film-goers will probably see coming a mile away.

However, don’t let the rather predictable plot fool you, the central message and acting performances are what sell the movie. Sophie Okonedo, as Sandra Laing, delivers another fantastic performance and this should remind audiences and casting agents both about her ability to portray a wide range of characters (“Dirty Pretty Things”, “Martian Child”, “Hotel Rwanda”). She played Laing at multiple ages and did so with subtlety, grace and assurance. As a teenager falling in love for the first time, the childlike energy and naivety come through; after becoming a two-time mother and having to eke out an existence without the support of a husband, the steely determination of that journey takes both an emotional and physical toll on the character.

Sam Neill also turns in another excellent performance and didn’t shy away from making his character as unlikeable at times as he needed to be. Playing his wife and acting almost as his foil, Alice Krige was the middle ground between Neill’s thinking that blacks are a sub-class of humanity and Okonedo’s curiosity about a culture she physically (and possibly genetically) identifies with. While often playing a submissive role in the film, it only heightened any of her emotional outbursts and was one of the stronger resonating elements of the picture.

The issues surrounding racism in Apartheid-era South Africa are heady stuff. Director Anthony Fabian painted the broad picture here but seemed to get lost in making sure to hit all the biographical plot points. There’s a sense of aimlessness towards the end that lessened the emotional impact but the strength of the performances help to alleviate this concern.

That said, it is still a powerful story, rich with wonderful performances and is perhaps one of the best of 2009 (I have to forgive much of the predictable plot because it is based on a true story, how much choice does the screenwriter have?). If you’re a fan of emotionally charged cinema, “Skin” is a can’t miss and gets a 4 out of 5.