out of Five
Running time: 108
Trashily enjoyable thriller that puts its low budget to impressive use and scrapes a pass thanks to strong performances and some bone-crunching action scenes, despite ultimately getting bogged down in a script that attempts to be two different films, whilst the finale raises more questions than it answers.
What's it all about?
Directed by Hadi Hajaig, Cleanskin stars Sean Bean as Ewan, a covert secret service operative whose boss Charlotte (Charlotte Rampling) tasks him with hunting down the perpetrators of a London bombing campaign after a briefcase full of Semtex is stolen from under his nose. Teamed with floppy-haired marksman Mark (Tom Burke), Ewan is soon dispatching suspected terrorists in brutal fashion, but his personal tragedy-fuelled lust for revenge may be blinding him as to what's actually going on.
Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal how British Muslim student Ash (Abhin Galeya) – who stole the Semtex and planned the opening bomb attack - became radicalised under the influence of friendly, Unforgiven-quoting preacher Nabil (Peter Colycarpou) after the breakdown of his relationship with frequently topless student Kate (Tuppence Middleton).
Sean Bean is excellent as Ewan, delivering an intense, rage driven performance that keeps you on edge because he's not exactly an easy character to root for (his live-wire, Jack Bauer style credentials are established early on when he tortures a prostitute for information and then there's the small matter of setting a man on fire). Galeya is equally good as Ash and the script is oddly sympathetic towards him (character-wise, he has a depth that Ewan singularly lacks), while also commendably refusing to make Colycarpou's Nabil the textbook villain. There's also strong support from Charlotte Rampling and Tuppence Middleton, though the latter is disappointingly underused.
Given the film's obviously low budget, director Hajaig orchestrates some impressive action scenes and effects sequences, most notably a thrilling mid-air headshot during a free running-style escape. Similarly, the fight scenes are bone-crunchingly brutal and excitingly staged, if you like that sort of thing.
The main problem is that in attempting to tell both sides of the story, the script often feels like two completely different films (one a gung-ho, violence-heavy Friday night action thriller, the other a surprisingly sensitive terrorist drama) and the two halves never really gel together in a satisfying way. Similarly, the climax is frustrating, thanks to what looks like a hastily rewritten ending that falls apart the moment you think about it.
Whilst not entirely successful, Cleanskin is still something of a guilty pleasure, thanks to thrilling action sequences and strong performances from Sean Bean and Abhin Galeya. Just don't think about it too hard.