The first two-thirds of Skin, a movie set in the twilight of apartheid, are great because of Sam Neill. The last third of Skin is bad because of Sam Neill. The reason? Because in the first two-thirds, Neill is mostly present; in the last third, he is mostly absent. The film, which is based on a true story about a brown girl whose biological parents are white and very traditional Afrikaners, contains one of Neill's finest performances. He successfully interprets the complexity of his character: a man who does not question the Afrikaner racial ideology, who believes in the significance of his skin color, and yet deeply adores his brown daughter. The father is willing to fight the entire system for his daughter's right to be what she is not (white), and that, oddly enough, takes a lot of love. The story was made for Douglas Sirk.
The daughter is as complicated as her father (she has black skin but a soul that is at odds, if not at war, with that skin), but the actress, Sophie Okonedo, fails to successfully communicate or translate that complexity. Okonedo's character might be at the center of the melodrama, but she is eclipsed by Neill, who is known in this country for his role in Jurassic Park. The film is heavy in mood and mode, and has a great score by Hélène Muddiman.