It’s rare to find a film that refrains from forcing a particular point of perspective on to its audience. Hadi Hajaig’s captivating Cleanskin discourages one-sidedness, as it equally plays both faces of the same coin.
Set amist the hustle and bustle of modern day London, the intense indie production highlights the Muslim mentality behind terrorism and a secret British authority’s violence-at-all costs response. The highly trained militant turned secret service agent Ewan (Sean Bean) is sent on a hush-hush mission to trace and kill an organization of cleanskin (perpetrators with no criminal record) Arab terrorists.
As Ewan’s prey Ash (Abhin Galeya) juggles a clearly complicated love life with an extended induction into terrorism, he shows reluctance to his ‘duties’ as he’s neither here nor there. The tangled teen continually walks out on his lover Kate (Tuppence Middleton) and constantly shows weakness towards the terrorist ideals for which he is seduced into.
With a clever script, Cleanskin’s narrative throws us back and forth in time to illustrate Ash’s journey to the present day, but effectively choses not to show us Ewan’s past, despite his clear psychological torment. Rather it is left to our imagination to decipher the clues in Ewan’s gestures and behaviors – there is pain in his eyes and emotional scars from a traumatic bygone, leaving him a relentless force to be reckoned with. Bean’s magnetism to his screen persona is absorbing to say the least as we recognize the many layers of thought to this killer-elite.
The frequent utilization of hand-held camerawork doesn’t hide the fact it is an independent production, neither does it make for a comfortable watch – but that’s the point. The frantic camera movement and extreme close-ups revel in the sheer brutality of this struggle against terror, as Cleanskin fuses the same combat aesthetics of a recent James Bond movie with the same irresistible edge-of-your-seat suspense of Drive.
High-ranking secret service operative Charlotte McQueen, subtly enacted by Charlotte Rampling, deploys Ewan to immediately counter the terror situation after a case of Semtex explosives is stolen, but not everything is what it seems. There is a reason why she chose Ewan to play dirty, and writer Hajaig waits until the perfect and most unpredictable moment to introduce a twist that makes for more than just another action thriller.
With an unprepared adult audience discomforted by the frequent and amplified graphic violence, the only issue I have with Hajaig’s current picture of extremism is its fifteen certificate; some of the scenes felt like they belonged in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, Reservoir Dogs or one of his other certified eighteens. “You’ve not seen me…until now” utters Ash in this fast-paced and merciless take on issues deeply rooted in modern media. These words now resonate in tune with the career of Hadi Hajaig, as he takes us on an insightful and hard-hitting journey into our own fears and anxieties towards terror.
In cinemas March 9th