Dir. Hadi Hajaig, UK, 2012, 108 mins
Review by Guy Joynson
The recent critical success of Kill List, the quality cast here in Cleanskin and the fact that this film has been taken up by a major distributor are all promising indications that this could prove to be another great, low budget British feature. Unfortunately this turns out not to be the case.
Hadi Hajaig is not only the director of the film but also the writer, producer and editor – a sure indication that this project means a lot to him. However it also involves him in a lot of responsibility for a huge range of areas, making Hajaig unable to focus on the actual business of directing and it shows. However there are some positive aspects to the film.
Bean plays Ewan, a British secret service agent on the trail of a suicide bomber and his terrorist cell – a good subject for an action drama and surprisingly underused in British films. Considering the film’s small budget, the cast is impressive – starting with Bean himself, strong in the lead, plus Charlotte Rampling and Tuppence Middleton and including some lower profile actors best known from television, such as Michelle Ryan, Abhin Galeya and Peter Polycarpou. Unfortunately the cast is the highlight of the movie.
Cleanskin plays slowly with some very predictable twists and turns, which any astute viewer will see coming. The film seems to be trying to be two things at once – an action ride following Sean Bean’s flawed hero Ewan and a touching, relatable drama about how Ash (Galeyas) is turned to radical extremism. Telling the story from Ewan’s perspective could have made Cleanskin more like Die Hard. Concentrating on Ash’s point of view could have made it more like A Prophet. Either would have been better than the end result, where the dual focus lets the film down.
The script is probably the biggest problem area and perhaps one of those indications that Hajaig took on too much in his involvement in the other areas of the film. There is some truly awful and mundane dialogue, though admittedly not all the way through. Ash’s back story however is just too trite – it is not believable that his old university girlfriend, based on what we see of their relationship, could ever turn him to and/or from extremism. This unengaging and at times almost farcical relationship takes up a large proportion of the film.
To sum up Cleanskin an action packed, emotionally melodramatic rollercoaster with a great cast let down by a poor script. Which is a pity, as in terms of reflecting our culture, we need a thriving UK film industry, so it’s good to see a major studio like Warner take on the distribution of what is a comparatively low budget British film. Despite this film’s weaknesses, let’s hope they do it again.