Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
In director Hadi Hajaig's thriller 'Cleanskin', we are introduced to Ewan Keane, as played by actor Sean Bean at his moody, brooding, grizzled best, a man who is a special operative who really loves his native Great Britain and really hates terrorists. Think of the thing you hate most on the planet Earth, then multiply that by 503 and that's now much Ewan Keane hates terrorist.  On this particular day Ewan is playing bodyguard to some fat bastard who is carrying a briefcase full of an extremely lethal form of Semtex.  Why this fat bastard is carting around plastic explosives to parts unknown through crowded mall areas is a mystery to me, but there he is doing just that.  The problem with this day is that Asham (Abhin Galeya), a British born Muslim with terrorist intentions, knew he was going to be there and took that briefcase from the fat bastard, killing a number of people in the process and causing Ewan some grave injury.  Ewan recovers and he will spend the rest of this film trying to track down Asham before he completes his lethal endgame… though, as per usual, all isn't always what it seems.

Though Sean Bean is the headliner in 'Cleanskin', this film's main focus is on the journey of Ash and how he made the transition from an ordinary, albeit terminally pissed off college student, to a blunt force object of death and destruction. 

So as we mentioned, Ash is a law student, very bright, but none too happy with the world around him, particularly how it's treating his fellow Muslim brothers back in the Middle East.  He also has a girlfriend in the lovely Kate (Tuppence Middleton), a fellow law student.  The problem with this situation is that Kate is a very young
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Western woman who likes to have a good time, while her boyfriend is a fairly rigid Middle Eastern young man who doesn't like his girls definition of a good time one little bit which only adds to his overall despair with the world. 

Then as meets the Nabil the Holy Man (Peter Polycarpou), the man who will be the fulcrum for Ash's blunt force object of destruction, a man who points out the problems with the world, the problems with westerners, the disregard that we have for anything outside of self gratification and how these people need to burn.  And a terrorist is born.  Or a freedom fighter, depending on where you're from.

Back to Ewan, who under the detailed instructions of undersecretary Charlotte McQueen (Charlotte Rampling) is desperately trying to stop the next attack, along with his new partner Mark (Tom Burke), and Ewan is not adverse to using extreme, civil rights violating means to get to the answers that he desires.  The problem is that these answers Ewan is getting never seems to add up properly, and he's always one step behind Ash which shouldn't be happening.  If only Ash and Ewan knew what we are going to know, they'd probably rethink things a bit.

Hadi Hajaig's 'Cleanskin' roughly breaks out to three parts impressive filmmaking and two parts rudimentary filmmaking which still adds up to a pretty good movie according to my slipshod mathematics.  For instance we have a fairly rudimentary storyline here, one featuring a really angry, almost completely blinded agent with a sad history heatedly tracking down a crazed Middle Eastern terrorist.  Adding to the 'been there, seen that' element of this basic storyline is Sean Bean playing completely to type as the damaged, brooding, overly violent combustible agent.  But, considering it is Sean Bean doing it and this is something he does so well, this is a bit of rudimentary filmmaking we can stand behind.  But what makes this rudimentary storyline impressive is the fact that the focal figure is the actual terrorist.  Instead of just being a cackling cartoonish psycho from one of those Golan-Globus laugh fests from the eighties, actor Abhin Galeya, in a wonderful performance gives Ash a face, a personality, and a trajectory from where he was to where he is.  We are given reasons to why he believes he has to do these things he does, and of course the validity of these reasons are highly debatable, but they are least presented here in a way that at least seems valid to the character we are dealing with.

There was a fair bit of action and bloody violence in this movie which did heighten the tension and the entertainment factor, at least for me it did, but the movie also suffered from a couple of plot devices, which at best we can call contrivances.  You know, when something completely obscure shows up apparently having nothing to do with anything, problem being you've seen enough movies to know that this completely obscure thing will have something to do with everything?  Or the coincidences and innuendo all leading towards the inevitable.  We could also harp a little on the overblown conspiracy theory conclusion, but we do like a good conspiracy theory so we won't complain about that too much either.  Also, and this isn't really a criticism, but 'Cleanskin' probably isn't the movie you want to watch if you're searching for your happy place because this is one grim, miserable and depressing world that these characters live in.  I know life generally sucks but jeez.

Depressing and violent though it may be, 'Cleanskin' was still a very well acted, very intense, well crafted thriller from director Hadi Hajaig.  Another fine entry into the British crime thriller genre.
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