Release Date – 9th March 2012
Certificate – 15
Running Time – 109 mins
Country – UK
Director – Hadi Hajaig
Starring – Sean Bean, Abhin Galeya, Charlotte Rampling, Tuppence Middleton, James Fox, Peter Polycarpou, Silas Carson, Tom Burke
‘Cleanskin’ is a term that was initially used to describe an undercover operative who was unknown to the group he was to infiltrate but in the wake of the 2005 London bombings was used in the media to describe a terrorist totally unknown to the security services. It’s this second definition that forms the basis of Hadi Hajaig’s London-set thriller.
Sean Bean plays Ewan Keane, former war veteran turned Secret Service agent. Posing as the bodyguard of a small time arms dealer he becomes involved in an attack in a hotel lobby which results in a suitcase full of semtex being stolen by terrorist Ash (Galeya). After some of the semtex is used in the bombing of a restaurant, Ewan’s handler Charlotte (Rampling) decides that he is the best man to find and eliminate the terrorist cell before they strike again. Teamed up with family man Mark (Burke), Ewan will do whatever he can to track down Ash. Through flashbacks we discover Ash’s journey from idealistic Muslim student to radicalised terrorist at the hands of an extremist cleric Nabil (Polycarpou) and his relationship with fellow student Kate (Middleton).
Cleanskin is a watchable but confused thriller that suffers from never quite knowing what it wants to be. On one hand it seems to want to be a Taken-style thriller with an unstoppable violent protagonist who will do whatever he can to get the job done. On the other, it clearly wants to be a serious look at how one young Muslim man can become a suicide bomber. Sadly the two styles seem at odds with other and never quite work together. As a result it doesn’t quite satisfy as either an action thriller or a serious drama.
Of the two plot strands, I personally found Ash’s story to be more interesting. Partly because I hated Taken but also because Ash is given a slightly more rounded character and, because of the flashbacks, one with a considerably more detailed back-story. Oddly, Sean Bean’s Ewan is a harder character to identify with, as we are given very little detail about him as a person. There is mention of a tragic incident in his past involving his wife that explains why he will kill and maim anyone who gets in his way. Though this doesn’t make his actions any less unpalatable and sadly doesn’t make it any easier to understand or identify with a character willing to punch prostitutes in the back and set Muslim men on fire.
The film has some positives however. It’s a competently directed and occasionally visually striking film that makes the most of it’s limited budget. It also has it’s fair share of effective set pieces. The opening scenes where Ash gets the semtex in a bloody attack in a hotel lobby are well-done. A later section of the film where Ash has to assist visiting terrorist Amin (Carson) in killing an army reserve sergeant is also memorably chilling. The cast is also very strong. Sean Bean does his best with an underwritten role but remains a watchable screen presence. Abhin Galeya is very impressive as the conflicted suicide bomber and makes the most of a role that has considerably more depth than Bean’s. Peter Polycarpou is also very good as the cleric whose charismatic outside persona masks a more sinister one beneath the surface. Rounding out the cast are solid turns from Charlotte Rampling as Ewan’s handler, Silas Carson as a sinister Mr Bean loving terrorist and Tuppence Middleton as Ash’s university girlfriend. Only former Eastenders star Michelle Ryan seems competely out of place in a fairly pointless role of a waitress at the restaurant that gets bombed early on in the film. It seems an odd choice to cast such a recognisable actress for a couple of minutes screen time and is slightly distracting.
Cleanskin is definitely not a terrible film. If a little more effort had been put into fleshing out Bean’s character, it could have been a more compelling look at two men involved in a culture of endless violence at opposite ends of the spectrum. As it stands it’s a rather confused and not entirely satisfying film. Not one without some positives however and probably worth renting at a later date but I don’t think I’d recommend rushing to a cinema to see it.