Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"Cleanskin is a smart and visceral thriller."

He is driven, uncaring of feelings, of injury, of the law. He burns with a passion kindled in him by others. He is implacable, powered by a desire for vengeance. He has no fear of death, of others or his own. He is hunting a group of suicide bombers.

He is Sean Bean. His face grows ever craggier with age, the weariness of Ned Stark and Boromir writ upon his features. He is not the novice he played in Ronin. As Ewan it is clear that he has seen things, done things. Once a soldier, he is now embroiled in the murky machinations of counterterrorism. He reports to Charlotte Rampling, as "McQueen" she is icy as Dench's M is icy: suffice to say that things have gone wrong, things must be done. This is "old school", no technical trickery; old-fashioned detective work, and, in truth, good old-fashioned film making.

Copy picture

The cast is small, well-used. Bean is almost a cipher, Rampling absolutely so. Tom Burke plays Mark, allegedly good with a gun but a family man - electric bunny rabbit and all. As 'Ash', Ashraf, Abhin Galeya manages to be more sympathetic than the men hunting him, but it is nonetheless an atrocity he plans. He is not alone. Peter Polycarpou's Nabil has recruited others, cultivated them - a scheme that seems drawn straight from paranoiac visions of 'cleanskins', domestic terrorists with no prior record, carefully nurtured away from the sight of the security services.

Ash has history. Her name is Kate, another neat turn from Tuppence Middleton - short film aficionados might remember her from Ever Here I Be or In The Meadow, but she won attention in Tormented and this is more good work. They have an affair, a messy one, and as it collapses Ash begins his flirtation with terrorism. In one compelling sequence he escorts a killer brought in from abroad - condemned as "an Englishman" for his eating habits, he cannot help but react when said killer guffaws at Mr Bean's Holiday.

There's a ring of authenticity throughout, let down by small oversights, continuity errors - in one otherwise tense scene silencers appear and disappear from drawn pistols, and since 2011 British governments no longer pick election dates. That's more than made up for by some excellent location work, a neatly unfolding plot, and no small degree of brutality.

There is an interrogation that is genuinely discomfiting, moments of genuine surprise, and in a shootout on a housing estate at least one incident that caused the audience to cry out. There are excellent small roles, Shivani Ghai as Rena, dragged unwittingly into the action; Michelle Ryan too contributes meaningfully. For all the others though, this is about Bean's Ewan and his parallel, Ash.

Ronin is a fair reference, the Bourne films too - though here our sympathies shift far more quickly, every revelation deepening our understanding of events. Cleanskin is a smart and visceral thriller. Its focus is small, close, character driven, but no less compelling for it. It neatly taps into conspiracies and paranoia, old wounds and fresh ones, as it assembles its narrative. As it twists its way towards its climax we are forced to reevaluate what we have seen previously - it gives us the chance to reflect with slower moments, hides additional detail in neatly mimicked rolling-news. Occasionally it shows us London from above, grainy and washed out, much like its protagonist - a terror-tale from the CCTV age. It isn't a happy ending, without giving too much away, but it is a satisfying one, and worth catching.

Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2012
Share this with others on...
Cleanskin packshot
A secret agent tracks down a would-be suicide bomber and his cell.
Amazon link

Director: Hadi Hajaig

Writer: Hadi Hajaig

Starring: Sean Bean, Abhin Galeya, Charlotte Rampling, Peter Polycarpou, Tuppence Middleton

Year: 2012

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Search database: