Combustible Celluloid
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With: Brady Corbet, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michelle Trachtenberg, Jeff Licon, Bill Sage, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Elisabeth Shue, Lisa Long, Chris Mulkey, George Webster, Chase Ellison, Billy Drago, Richard Riehle
Written by: Gregg Araki, based on the novel by Scott Heim
Directed by: Gregg Araki
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 99
Date: 09/03/2004

Mysterious Skin (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Human Touch

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Gregg Araki's remarkable new film Mysterious Skin has already received some negative press and a few reviews that have missed the point, but it's a superb achievement, and easily one of the two or three best films of the spring season. It traces the lives of two young men who were abused one summer as children by their baseball coach (Bill Sage). Neil (played as a youngster by Chase Ellison, and as a teen by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) becomes a rebel and a hustler, while the other, Brian (George Webster, and later Brady Corbet), withdraws and becomes fascinated by alien abductions.

Araki (The Living End, The Doom Generation) could have gone the usual brutal, oppressive route but instead finds an astonishingly beautiful center to his film, focusing on tender moments of re-discovery and re-direction rather than on pain and defeat. In one great scene, Neil picks up an older, sinister-looking john (Billy Drago), only to discover the man's body covered with HIV-related sores. The scene's danger level rises, but only for a moment, before the pitiful man asks merely for a back rub. Araki shows the subsequent rub, and the man sighs in ecstasy from this simple human touch. My one complaint is that, after Araki finds the perfect image to close his movie, he stifles it with a bit of totally unnecessary and jarring narration. Otherwise, Michelle Trachtenberg and Elizabeth Shue are excellent in supporting roles.

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