Directed by Hadi Hajaig.
Starring Sean Bean, Abhin Galeya, Charlotte Rampling, James Fox, Tuppence Middleton, Shivani Ghai and Michelle Ryan.
A secret service agent deep undercover in London’s criminal underbelly is tasked with eliminating a terrorist cell.
After the 9/11 attacks, the movie industry took a different stance in portraying its terrorists on screen. There was a shift from the flamboyant, scenery chewing terrorists (often portrayed by British actors) that seemed rather like caricatures as opposed to anything vaguely resembling real life. Cinema, on the back of such shocking, world changing reality, had to take a more grounded approach to on-screen terrorists. There’ve been numerous films now offering a gritty, more realistic depiction of the war on terror, whether directly based on true events (United 93) or not. Cleanskin opts to give the terrorists a face, an ideal and personal struggle.
Sean Bean stars as Ewan, a secret service agent who specialises in anti-terrorism. When explosives his group has been tasked with guarding are stolen, Ewan must track down the culprit, Ash (Abhim Galeya), who uses some to detonate a bomb in London, before he unleashes another attack. Cleanskin is fairly routine in terms of plot, but to its credit there’s an emphasis on telling both sides of the story. Whilst Ewan’s tortured past (his family were killed by a bomb blast) is hinted at and told through Beans haunted portrayal, Ash’s past is told through flashback. We see him turn from an idealistic, opinionated student, struggling to conform and accept the conventions of society, to being taken under the wing of a radical cleric. The shift between Bean’s present day hunt to find Ash before he strikes, and the flashbacks of Ash’s descent into terrorism is done well enough, without jarring.
The cast are solid. There’s nothing too original in terms of story and characters, despite its commendable focus on both sides of the coin. Sean Bean is reliable. It’s a little by-the-numbers, the whole tortured agent routine, but Bean gives it some gravitas. Galeya is excellent as Ash, whilst there’s decent support from veteran Charlotte Rampling. Elsewhere, EastEnders fans will recognise Michelle Ryan who pops up in a brief cameo at the beginning.
The film's action is quick, punchy and effective. The fight sequences are Bourne-lite, opting for brutally efficient means of tackling bad guys, whilst snappily edited. There’s nothing as impressive as some of the fights in Bourne but nevertheless, Ewan despatches those before him with ruthless efficiency. The budget isn’t very big and doesn’t allow for a standout set piece, but there’s enough action spread through the film and it’s very well paced.
In all, writer / director, Hadi Hajaig has crafted a workmanlike thriller that sadly allows itself to descend into silly plot turns that do little but highlight some of the sillier real-life conspiracy theories that did the rounds following 9/11 or 7/7. It’s a shame to undo some of the good work earlier in the film by resorting to such trite Hollywood convention and this everlasting (needless) need for the thriller plot twist. That said it’s well paced with effective action and makes good use of a solid cast. The budget and visuals give it the look of a good TV show. Perhaps the further exploits of Ewan could make for an interesting Spooks-esque episodic. It just doesn’t offer enough to be a cinematic success.
Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★