Posted March 5, 2012 by David Watson in C
 
 

Cleanskin


 

The
dictionary defines a cleanskin as “a
person without a criminal record.”
In director Hadi
Hajaig
’s tense new Brit-thriller that’s Ash (Abhin Galeya), a homegrown terrorist unknown to the security
services.

 

When an unscrupulous American arms dealer is the victim of
a bloody assassination in a London hotel and the suitcase full of Semtex he’s
selling is stolen by the killer, it’s up to grizzled, on-the-edge spook Ewan (Sean Bean) to get it back before the
streets run red with blood.
However, has he met his match in Ash, a young Islamic extremist,
radicalised at university, who’s operating completely under the radar to
orchestrate a series of suicide bombings around London?

 

Handsome, charming and intelligent, Ash is totally
committed to his cause, sewing semtex into puffa jackets, allowing suicide
bombers to get close to their targets without raising suspicion. As his bombs bring terror to the
streets of London, Ash finds himself questioning the path he’s embarked on when
a chance meeting with old flame Kate (Tuppence
Middleton
) rekindles their romance and offers him a last chance of
redemption. But Ewan is closing in
for the kill and Ash is determined to complete his mission whatever the cost…

 

A taut, tense, bleak little thriller, Cleanskin has a pleasingly cynical, ‘70s feel. While Sean Bean’s maverick secret agent
Ewan and his propensity to beat information out of suspects (how many other
mainstream films feature the protagonist punching a hooker in the spine?) will
no doubt invite comparison with 24’s
Jack Bauer, he has a lot more in common with Edward Woodward’s paranoid,
conflicted Callan. Driven by bitterness and a desire for
revenge, Ewan is in over his head, unable to trust his smooth rookie partner (Tom Burke), and is certainly being
manipulated by his bloodless handler (Charlotte
Rampling
). He’s at the heart
of a conspiracy he can only dimly perceive and Bean makes the most of his
strangely underwritten role bringing a moral righteousness to Ewan’s
uncomplicated character.

 

Galeya’s Ash meanwhile is no cardboard cut-out raghead
terrorist. He’s a complex,
sympathetic character, adrift in a society he no longer feels a part of. He’s a man without a country; he
belongs nowhere. Seduced by
charismatic preacher Nabil (Peter
Polycarpou
) Ash is wholly committed to carrying out his suicide bombing
until he bumps into Kate completely by chance and then senses another way out
for himself. Galeya is very good,
maintaining the audience’s sympathy even as he’s directing a bombing campaign
that destroys Borough Market and turns that nice girl from Eastenders (an effective cameo by Michelle Ryan) into jam.
Despite the terrible things he does, ultimately Ash is the most
sympathetic and well-rounded character in the film, the most human.

 

The luminous Tuppence Middleton is wasted here in an
underwritten role as Ash’s ex while Fox and Rampling have little to do except
be ominous but Polycarpou, an actor you’re probably more familiar with from TV
sitcoms, is excellent as the friendly, jovial extremist Nabil, a man as likely
to be talking football as he is jihad.
The film’s most surprising and chilling turn however comes from Silas Carson’s Amin, an almost demonic
assassin sent to London to murder a former soldier by executing him live on the
Internet. Amin turns up for ten
minutes in the middle of the film then disappears again but Carson’s
performance brings a sub-zero chill that hangs over the film like a fog.

 

While the film isn’t without it’s problems; it’s at least
15 minutes too long and the plot is a little predictable, like a particularly
gritty episode of Spooks, director/writer
Hajaig (who previously made the ambitious little horror movie Puritan) succeeds in humanising the
inhuman, in finding a sympathetic way to depict, without ever condoning or even
trying rationalise one man’s journey to extremism. Admirably even-handed and restrained, Cleanskin is a brutal, compelling meditation on Britain’s War on
Terror.

 


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com