VOD film review: Cleanskin
Ivan Radford | On 23, May 2014
Director: Hadi Hajaig
Cast: Sean Bean, Abhin Galeya, Charlotte Rampling
Watch Cleanskin online in the UK: Amazon Prime / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“I fought in Afghanistan to stop the same thing happening here. But it never stops. And neither will I.” A gruff Sean Bean vents his inner anger in a dingy bar. A former soldier turned secret agent, he’s tasked with finding a cleanskin – a home-grown terrorist with no record in the intelligence system. But this isn’t 007 we’re talking about. It’s not even Spooks. Hadi Hajaig’s thriller has a grubby sheen that the director knows how to exploit, not least by setting everything in London.
The capital’s rarely looked so vibrant and grimy at the same time, and Hajaig wastes no time in stepping up the tension levels. But thrills take a back seat for most of the 108 minutes, with Cleanskin instead choosing to focus on Ash (Galeya). A young, conflicted Muslim, he’s a complex character who easily earns our sympathy as someone destined to collide with Bean’s angry fists.
But in flashing back to Ash’s past (messy uni relationships, ugly botched missions), Hajaig loses the thread a tiny bit. The ambitious director gets bonus points for ducking stereotypes with manipulative mentor Nabil (a disarmingly excellent Peter Polycarpou) and for making the low-key action hit hard, even if the narrative focus blurs a little because of it.
Bean, meanwhile, is every bit the low-budget anti-spy, with his grizzled beard, messy hair and Sheffield accent. He’d sooner kill people than ask questions. Let off the leash by a shady Charlotte Rampling, he’s an impressively nasty piece of work. That makes it a shame that Cleanskin doesn’t stick with him throughout. The film tries to make up for it in the final act, but the sudden twists and turns are closer to confused than surprising. Still, this is tense and engaging stuff. The result is a provocative thriller that delights in dinginess, even if it occasionally gets a bit too messy.
Cleanskin is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.