Reviewed by: David Stanners

Emily (Maggie Cheung) and Lee (James Johnston) are married rock singers, living life on the extreme edge. A hedonistic existence of booze, drugs, parties and failed efforts to sign record deals leaves them in a tight corner ready to give way.

One night, following a session of argy-bargy, Emily storms out of their apartment after scoring some heroin. The next day Lee is found dead on the floor, having overdosed in spectacular rock star fashion.

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After spending six months behind bars for possession, Emily emerges torn between grief, unconquered heroin addiction and a young son she barely knows. In an attempt to pull the rapidly fraying strands of her life together, she meets up with her disheveled father-in-law, Albrecht (Nick Nolte). For a man seemingly bound with the weight of the world on his shoulders, he provides hope and moral support for Emily, in spite of the fact that he and his desperately sick wife Rosemary (Martha Henry) have lost their son Lee and are looking after Emily's young son single handed.

Starting off in Canada, the action oscillates between London and Paris, where Emily meets up with past encounters and old studio bosses. Desperately attempting to resurrect her singing career and get off the heroin, she enrolls in a methadone programme and attempts to smooth the path with her estranged son Jay (James Dennis).

Writer/director Olivier Assayas has created a strange tale of desperation and hope. At times, he comes close to losing his way with the plot and an arbitrary array of characters that spring from nowhere (Beatrice Dalle and Tricky), with little input. Ironically these undeveloped characters add to the shapeless chaos of Emily's life and whenever Nolte comes into the fold, momentum picks up markedly.

Both he and Cheung give outstanding performances. Albrecht has a heart of gold and provides a much-needed chink of light in a very dark tale. Meanwhile, Cheung, who scooped best actress at Cannes, gives a sensitive and multi layered performance, manifesting deserved empathy from the audience by delicately drawing from a wide spectrum of emotions.

Without the impressive acting talent, it is doubtful Clean would have worked. The story is nothing new and tends to meander about too much before finding its way. In the end, the strength of the performances sustains interest sufficiently to make it a worthwhile watch.

Reviewed on: 02 May 2005
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A struggling singer attempts to pull her life together and reconcile with her son after her rock star husband dies from a heroin overdose.
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Director: Olivier Assayas

Writer: Olivier Assayas, Malachy Martin

Starring: Maggie Cheung, Nick Nolte, Beatrice Dalle, Martha Henry, James Johnston, James Dennis, Tricky, Jeanne Balibar

Year: 2004

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada/France/UK


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