Sean Bean plays a grizzly secret service agent on the trail of radical Islamist martyrs threatening to unleash a fresh wave of terror on the streets of London. Hadi Hajaig’s Cleanskin is a rather unusual thriller and unafraid to show how extreme approaches on both sides of the fence can provoke devastating reactions. The film is incredibly violent but never seeks to sensationalise or divorce the more gruesome aspects from reality. It isn’t Hollywood movie action on offer. Instead it feels brutal and uncomfortable. A moment in which Bean’s character shoots somebody in the head, chunks of brain scatter across the floor.
The plot does sometimes lose focus as the timeframe jumps about. Cleanskin primarily focuses on young British muslim, Ash (Abhin Galeya) going from ordinary but shy student to setting off on the road to martyrdom. The mixture of political thriller and action film seems to be at odds with itself yet strangely never buckles and always intrigues. The early scenes of Bean and his partner tracking down suspects and those targets ending up a bit dead comes across like a homage to 1970s cop shows or movies such as The French Connection. The other side of this shows Ash, the radicalised terrorist, unsure of his own motives but filled with anger and allowing himself to be used by others. A clear parallel is made between Ewan (Bean) and Ash as both men are fighting for a cause they believe in and both are used by their handlers.
Another neat twist on proceedings is the shady government figures played by Charlotte Rampling and James Fox. What exactly are they up to and why are they so intent on this super-secret kill ‘em all operation? Is there some political wrangling going on? This plot device edges towards paranoid conspiracy theories that were banded about after the 7/7 bombings and that British government and secret service incompetence was really a mask for allowing the event to occur.
Cleanskin is a thoroughly decent thriller which explores the modern fight against terrorism as a game of pure death. Hajaig shows off London with cinematic verve and bleached out, high contrast photography. The Blu-ray comes with a TV spot and trailer as the solitary extra features.
UK Release Date: 2nd July