Mysterious Skin: Review – Newsday

Posted on 16. Jul, 2010 by in Mysterious Skin: Press, Press

Newsday
John Anderson

**** (U). Gregg Araki, erstwhile enfant terrible, channels his considerable talents into a heartbreaking story of lost innocence and epiphanies. Haunting. And, oddly enough, joyous. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet. Screenplay by Gregg Araki, based on the novel by Scott Heim. Directed by Gregg Araki. 1:39 (sex, adult content, violence). At Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St., Manhattan.

Once described as “eager to offend,” Gregg Araki has made some very good and insistently abrasive movies that were occasionally more angry than organic: “Doom Generation,” “Nowhere” and “Totally — Up” were examples of a director wanting to rattle, rather than seduce, his audience. Some filmmakers have been said to have their fingers on the pulse of the public. Araki was always checking its spleen.

But with “Mysterious Skin” – the first film in which Araki has gone elsewhere for his source material (the acclaimed novel by Scott Heim) – the anger hasn’t been suppressed, simply made more profitable. In “Mysterious Skin,” the hardest of facts are presented the way a traumatized war-crimes victim might relate his or her history – sometimes without passion, sometimes with a kind of intoxication. Araki has put a protective, shimmering patina on a story of abuse and emotional dissonance and the result is an otherworldly, painfully honest movie.

The performances are dead-on. The young Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Neil McCormick, a character right out of the Araki film-family album: Cynical, damaged, unfeeling but emotionally delicate, he begins his hustler career as if there were no other way. Perhaps, Araki says, there isn’t: Neil’s seduction by his Little League coach (a wonderful Bill Sage) is horrifyingly logical: Coach makes the little boy, with no father and a slatternly mother (Elisabeth Shue), feel good about himself. Sex is a small price with a long payout.

Across town is Brian Lackey, who thinks that as a kid he was abducted by aliens. As Brian, Brady Corbet has a more understated role to play than Gordon-Levitt’s, but he balances the film out in an extraordinarily deft fashion. Neil and Brady’s inevitable intersection makes for one of the more shattering, resonant sequences in any film of recent memory.

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