Cleanskin, in the UK, refers to an individual threat to national security that does not fit the expected profile of the actions they undertake. The film predominantly follows Ewan (Sean Bean), a British secret service agent and former soldier tasked with eliminating a terrorist cell, and Ash (Abhin Galeya), a suicide bomber and terrorist planning and coordinating attacks in London. This explosive action/thriller certainly does not fit the standard profile.
Director, producer, writer and editor Hadi Hajaig took on a mammoth task creating this movie and has done terrifically well to gain financing for the film and secure mass distribution through Warner Bros. As with many British films, there is often a tendency to lose the common elements of a city and assume that because the audience is seeing (in this case) images of London, they will accept it as much more realistic and be able to relate further. Hajaig fell into this trap, creating an uncomfortable first 10 minutes. Comparing it to an episode of Eastenders, even with Michelle Ryan’s stomach churning attempt at acting, would be unfair to the charming Albert Square.
However, it doesn’t take long for the narrative to focus in on Ewan and Ash, and once Hajaig stops introducing new characters, the film settles, making Cleanskin’s London feel more like home. Bean’s performance is particularly grounded and gritty, and without sounding too much like an English class on onomatopoeia, reflects the nature of the story and its environment. The fight scenes and choreography are brutal and unflinchingly violent, reminiscent of the new style of action introduced to the masses by the Bourne series.
Cleanskin trots along at a fairly brisk pace telling the story of Ash’s transformation from an ambitious, bright law student to a radicalised, violent young man. At times Hajaig runs the risk of patronising his audience with an all too basic informative approach, but surprisingly, it is Galeya’s performance that drives the film along at its most joggingly slow points. Refreshingly, there are moments when Ash’s story provides a semi-Usain Bolt sprint to the picture, perhaps more of a Dwain Chambers attempt. Regardless, it holds the attention whilst Ash wrestles with his conscience and the movie builds to its climax.
Some deeper cloak-and-dagger elements to Cleanskin’s story are disappointingly rushed towards the end of the film, but this is more than made up for with a thrilling last 10 minutes. Overall, Hajaig’s movie is an entertaining and unique attempt at a contemporary Jack Bauer story. The focus on the radicalisation of a young man is key and adds a layer that many Hollywood narratives could learn from. Worthy of a watch.