mon 24/06/2024

Cleanskin | reviews, news & interviews



British thriller probes the dark side of Islamic fundamentalism

Sean Bean as Ewan Keane, preparing to take it to the limit and beyond

Hats off to independent British writer/producer/director Hadi Hajaig, who has doggedly piloted his thriller Cleanskin to the screen and picked up distribution support from Warner Bros in the process. Hajaig was never going to be splashing around in a Bourne- or Bond-sized budget, but he has played up the flick's British roots with pungent use of some prime London locations.

He's also bought himself some box office buzz by recruiting an especially grizzled-looking Sean Bean to play Ewan Keane, ex-British soldier turned terrorist-hunter, as well as luring James Fox and Charlotte Rampling aboard as Keane's Westminster paymasters.

Bean does Bean, basically, playing a salt-of-the-earth working-class hard man who'll do anything it takes to keep murderous enemies of the state off the streets and preferably six feet under. The enemies in this case are Islamic fanatics, primarily in the lean and brooding form of Ash (a powerful performance by Abhin Galeya, pictured). Hajaig's script, it must be said, isn't long on psychological nuance, but we can recognise Ash as a composite of many young British Muslims we've been reading about since 9/11 and 7/7.

He's torn between his nationality and his faith, embodied in the way he's both attracted to his girlfriend Kate (Tuppence Middleton), who he meets when they're both students, but disgusted by her booze-and-promiscuity lifestyle. When he meets the radical preacher Nabil Alawi (Peter Polycarpou, who used to be married to Pauline Quirke in Birds of a Feather), Ash becomes putty, or indeed plastic explosive, in the wily cleric's hands.

The idea of an Islamist terror campaign on the streets of London has been a recurring nightmare for years, especially if it's perpetrated by so-called "cleanskins" who have been clandestinely moulded into suicidal killers without ever being picked up by the secret services. The security clampdown around the Olympics is evidently going to be massive, and though this irksome corporate sports juggernaut isn't built into Cleanskin's script, Hajaig has instead heightened the panic and paranoia by setting his killers loose during the run-up to a general election. He uses the familar thriller-land device of delivering updates and background via flashes from a TV news channel, UK News 24.

So Cleanskin scores on contemporary relevance and presses some wincingly sensitive buttons, and the narrative is robustly driven forwards by a whirring production line of violence. The film opens with a bloody shoot-out in a hotel lobby, as the undercover Keane fails dismally to protect an American arms dealer as he's blown away by Ash, who legs it with his briefcase full of Semtex explosive.

Ash starts preparing explosive-packed jackets, suicide bombers for the use of, one of which reduces a restaurant (and with it waitress Michelle Ryan, along with three MPs who supported the Iraq war) to rubble. Keane is summoned by Charlotte Rampling's Charlotte McQueen (pictured left), who tells him to find the Semtex at all costs, by whatever means. She gives him a sidekick, Mark (Tom Burke, pictured below with Bean), a young but scruple-free agent.

The trajectory of the plot isn't hard to guess, and a great many people are shot, stabbed, burned and beheaded along the way. The fanatics are remorselessly fanatical, although Ash suffers pangs of guilt about some of the things his commitment to the cause forces him to do, while the bureaucrats are slimy and unscrupulous and Keane just keeps killing people.

What makes it more than just an extended episode of Spooks is its whiff of actualité and several memorable performances. Galeya smoulders edgily, imparting a tangible sense of inner turmoil and coiled menace. Polycarpou is excellent as Nabil, using guile and even wit to win over impressionable young men rather then mere spittle-flecked ranting. Rampling radiates hooded-eyed coldness, while Bean possesses real leading man presence, even if his role is disappointingly one-dimensional. There's also a shiveringly nasty cameo by Silas Carson, as a professional hitman paying a visit from the Middle East. Cleanskin may well be worth 100 minutes of your time.

Cleanskin goes on release on 9 March

Watch an exclusive clip from Cleanskin

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Bean does Bean, a salt-of-the-earth hard man who'll do anything it takes to keep murderous enemies of the state off the streets


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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