Through the judicial system, power is granted to a select few in hopes that they will uphold the law and use their authority to protect and defend the greater good. This ideal, however, often doesn’t translate to reality. Countless instances of oppression and wrongdoing throughout human history have proved that power corrupts and often yields injustice. “On My Skin” brings to light the true story of Italian young man Stefano Cucchi, (Alessandro Borghi “Don’t Be Bad”) who was arrested on minor drug charges and shockingly died in prison a week later. Though Netflix’s adaptation of Cucchi’s harrowing tale tells an important story, cinematically there are more than a few shortcomings.
The day of Stefano Cucchi’s arrest begins like any other. He transitions from a morning workout, to work as a surveyor at a construction site, to a religious service, to sharing a meal with his parents, to finally meeting up with a friend for a casual smoke. This day of normalcy is interrupted, however, when a pair of arrogant policemen approach Cucchi with suspicions that he has been smoking and dealing marijuana. A few minutes of back and forth interrogation ensues, leading to the police’s eventual discovery of a hefty bag of pot in Cucchi’s pant leg. Detained overnight, Cucchi endures a brutal and illicit beating from his arresting officers, leaving his face black and blue and two vertebrae in his back broken. Shortly after, Cucchi is sentenced to imprisonment for the dealing and possession of cocaine and marijuana. Following his sentencing, Cucchi’s life begins a continuous downward spiral and it gradually becomes clear that, within the grasp of the prison system, he will never walk free again.
“On My Skin” manages to stray from creating archetype characters. Director Alessio Cremonini portrays Cucchi as a multidimensional protagonist, allowing audiences to perceive him as human and not entirely innocent or guilty. On the one hand, all signs point to the fact that Cucchi was “a bad man” for dealing cocaine and marijuana. However, at the same time, we also receive a glimpse into another part of Cucchi, the part that is a son and a brother. Though brief, the moments that reiterate the positive and loving relationship that Cucchi has with his family, such as regular dinners at his parent’s house or the sibling banter shared with his sister, build his character’s complexity and realness.
Though “On My Skin” is commendable in its introduction of Cucchi’s story to a broader audience, it lacks enough engaging material for audiences to grasp onto. The majority of the film can be encapsulated as a visual representation of Cucchi’s slow and painful physical and emotional deterioration, which is simply not sustainable for a two-hour film. Additionally, with such a large portion of the movie relying solely on Cucchi, there are no sturdy character relationships to invest in. Scene after scene, Cucchi is depicted lying in bed in worse condition than the day before, which becomes rather repetitive and, frankly, a bit boring. Not to mention the dialogue is far from riveting. The majority of conversations occurring between Cucchi and the prison guards or doctors, or between Cucchi’s parents, take on somber and relatively bland tones.
The film’s greatest misstep is failing to delve deeper into the aftermath of Cucchi’s death. Stefano Cucchi was unfortunately not alone in the cruelty he endured at the hands of the judicial system. The credit sequence reveals the staggering fact that Stefano Cucchi was the 148th person to die in an Italian prison in 2009. Additionally, audiences learn that after his death, Cucchi’s sister Ilaria and parents began digging for answers about Stefano’s bizarre death. This brief fragment, suggests that Cucchi’s story may be better off told as a documentation of his family’s search for answers. With uninvolved character interactions and a depressing downtempo mood, “On My Skin” simply does not have the lifeblood to invest audiences in what in reality is a very compelling and gripping story.