November 17, 2009

Pariah (1999)

MOVIES WHOSE subject matter is white supremacy or skinheads have always made me uncomfortable. So I was a bit apprehensive when planning to review Pariah.

But when I read that the film’s larger subject matter was revenge (a favorite of mine as evidenced here and here), my interest overtook my discomfort.

Inspired by actual events, Pariah tells the story of Steve (Damon Jones) and Sam (Elexa Williams), an interracial couple (he’s white, she’s black). After Steve is beaten and Sam is gang-raped by a group of skinheads – ending with tragic results – Steve decides, months later, to infiltrate the group as a fellow skinhead to destroy them from within.


Pariah writer/director Randolph Kret forces viewers to sit through many of the skinheads’ antics (gang attacks, drunken parties, slam dancing) as Steve makes his way into the group. At some point, you’ll find yourself saying, “get on with it” – you want Steve’s attempts at vengeance to come much sooner. (By the third act, the skinheads’ crimes and behavior manage to become shocking and monotonous at the same time.)

Not that I can speak from experience, but a noticeable portion of the skinheads’ dialogue seems forced rather than authentic. Whether it’s the actors’ deliveries or Kret’s script, it’s hard to say. (The sole exception is David Lee Wilson, who portrays one of the more hated punks in recent history as the scrawny, obnoxious second-in-command skinhead.)

Jones delivers a powerful performance as the tormented Steve, although he does go from defenseless victim to methodical infiltrator a bit too abruptly (more “training” for his skinhead persona would have been nice).

Unfortunately, Steve’s revenge never feels fully realized. It’s a rather unsatisfying ending, thanks to another group’s vengeance on the skinheads and Steve’s spontaneous, unfinished final blow to the gang. Frankly, I expected his payback to be a lot more brutal, considering what happened to him and Sam and the lengths he went to carry out his plan.

While Kret’s efforts are admirable, he comes up short in making Pariah an impactful film that stays with the viewer once it’s over. For a more memorable and unnerving portrayal of skinhead life, watch Edward Norton in American History X. That movie stuck with me for days, and still makes me shiver just thinking about it.


Will your kids want to watch it?
It doesn’t matter, because there is no way any child should see Pariah. It features a very graphic gang rape, several other explicit sex scenes, a severe gay-bashing, a countless number of profanities and racial/gay slurs, and frequent drug use.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I sure hope not. And if she does, steer her towards a better take on the topic: the aforementioned American History X.

• Director: Randolph Kret
• Screenwriter: Randolph Kret
• Stars: Damon Jones, Dave Oren Ward, David Lee Wilson, Angela Jones, Elexa Williams
• MPAA Rating: R

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Kathy B. said...

This definitely is not my cup of tea and I will stay away!!

Pariah 1998 said...

This is one great drama movie of the year 1998. It was not my kind of movie. I´m not afraid of a little violence in movies, but in this movie it just made no sense.


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