- Tom Dawson
- 9 March 2012
A gratuitously violent Sean Bean action vehicle light on sociological insight
'I love my country. I’ve killed for it and I’ll die for it', growls Ewan (Sean Bean), an ex-soldier turned secret service agent who is tasked with tracking down a cell of homegrown suicide bombers in this London-set thriller by British writer-director Hadi Hajaig. Not only has Ewan seen colleagues die in Afghanistan, but his wife has been murdered by terrorists in the unspecified past. His chief adversary is Ash (Abhin Galeya), a twenty-something law graduate, who was recruited into jihad by a radical Muslim cleric Nabil (Peter Polycarpou). Moreover Ash is a ‘cleanskin’ – a man without any prior connections to armed fundamentalist groups.
Fundamentally Cleanskin is riven by two contradictory dynamics. On the one hand it seeks to explore why a university educated individual like Ash would become actively involved in attacks that involve mass civilian casualties. On the other hand, heeding screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan’s advice that no scene should last more than 2 pages and every page and a half should contain a cliffhanging moment, Hajaig offers up a gratuitously violent Sean Bean action vehicle. Mise-en-scene and sociological analysis take a back seat to Ewan knifing, shooting and even setting alight suspects. 'I will find every one of them and send them to the death they pray for', he thunders, thus justifying assaulting a female prostitute in the search for information. The more interesting characters lurk in the margins, such as the Unforgiven-quoting Nabil, and Charlotte Rampling’s chain-smoking intelligence boss. Yet Cleanskin is weighed down by an unwieldy flashback structure and by way of conclusion falls back on an improbable and unsatisfying 'strategy of tension' explanation, whilst its target audience is almost certainly itching for more mano-a-mano combat.
General release from 9 Mar.