Release: Friday, March 9, 2012
I expected a little more out of Alec Trevelyan in this new Bond-like outing. Unfortunately, there were no clever quips about how they are about to destroy their targets in this one.
A British Secret Service agent finds himself on a questionable, albeit dangerous assignment: stopping the men (man?) responsible for the string of London bombings at all costs. He’s given little technology, even less support from his superiors, and only one partner, Mark (Tom Burke), to help out on the mission. This is, of course, during the height of the fear of terrorism following the 9/11 attacks on the United States and the sting of that attack is accurately refocused on the British landscape. It sickens me that there need not even be a dramatic film made to show just how devastating this time period was and continues to be, but regardless, here comes one. And you know what? It’s not half bad.
However, in Cleanskin ‘not half bad’ is a lot more telling of its confused direction than anything. The first half of this film is rather suspenseful, replete with compelling chase scenes, ultra-violence and Sean Bean being stiff as a board in his role as Ewan. (Actually, the latter is a trend that continues throughout, leaving me to question whether or not I truly appreciate what it is that he does.) The second half becomes something of a chore, sitting through a series of well-written terrorist propaganda campaigns whose intentions are to create the illusion that these people are really just acting out of good faith. What they are, in fact, are monsters. Straight-up killers. The second half of the film does absolutely nothing in the way of swaying our opinion of these religious zealots. If it isn’t intended to do such a thing — show us that even terrorist cells such as the London bombers are people simply acting on faith, not out of just anarchy and plain evil — there are far too many moments throughout that seem to indicate as much. Hence, the directorial mess that Cleanskin ultimately becomes.
For example, there are two main leads in this film that you need to pay close attention to. One is obviously that of Ewan, the Secret Service Operative and the second is a young student named Ash (Abhin Galeya), who is very intelligent, smartly dressed and intensely angry. We’ll ditch Bean’s character for now, since in the movie his story somewhat takes a backseat to that of Galeya’s. A few substantial flashbacks reveal Ash’s history; of how he went from quiet student to terrorist, his conscience being torn apart by wanting to lead a normal life with then-girlfriend Kate (Tuppence Middleton) and also wanting to fulfill his duties to God……read: his perceived duties. A good bulk of the middle section of this film — if not entirely the middle third — is dedicated to developing Ash, the mentality of a man living amongst whites, the likes of which he for the most part detests. Ash meets a man by the name of Nabil (Peter Polycarpou) who takes him under his wing to explain why exactly Ash feels the anger that he does. Nabil spoonfeeds Ash all the rhetoric one could ever need to psychologically snap. Call it propaganda, call it brainwashing. I just called it annoying, and a rather unnecessarily detailed detour from our main story.
So…we are now armed with all this character development on Ash’s part, and we must find a way to see how his emotional story and that of Ewan will intersect. Unfortunately, Ewan, a battle-hardened veteran now working for the BSS, is a rather flat and boring character in this film. Granted, he can kick some ass — male or female, he does not seem to care. Even if he isn’t operating beside (or maybe in the shadow of) a man like 007, I looked forward to another gruff but enjoyable performance from former Agent 006. In this film Bean is no fun. That’s not the biggest deal in the world, though, given that the movie is perpetually serious and doesn’t lend even a second to spare for a joke. He fits the scenery. But he’s not worth rooting for, at the same time.
What Hadi Hajaig’s second film boils down to is a rather brutal, yet realistic portrayal of how latent racism has become; a microcosm of this global problem exists in the relationship between Ash and Kate (Kate being a white Briton, and Ash being a Muslim). He is desperately wanting to lead a normal life with her, but Nabil insists he has other, more important obligations. Every time Ewan is on the hunt for further information or just trying to locate the next terror target, his will and determination to protect his country from this hatred is displayed with brute, often sickening force. One would assume these two ideals would mesh together well in a film: the passionate devotion of a British patriot versus the dedication of a freedom fighter to tear all of it down.
Unfortunately, Hajaig’s attempt doesn’t quite make it all fit on the screen neatly and we are left with a headache and a sick conscience for having witnessed so much hatred on display. After watching this it feels like we’ve just been flicking through endless news channels about the escalating global violence, and it doesn’t really leave us with the most optimistic outlook on existential crises such as the war on terror.
Perhaps such is not the film’s responsibility, though.
Recommendation: This is a decent action film loaded with plenty of gore, violence and racial tension. Stylistically its a strange mix between Jason Statham machismo and Kathryn Bigelow’s sharp political commentary, but there’s not much grace to it, and not much warmth in its storytelling. There’s little room for civilized conversation when so much is at stake, and the controversial subjects visited upon throughout make this difficult for me to definitively say ‘Yes, it’s worth seeing,’ or ‘No, you should absolutely avoid.’ If you happen to come across it, it’s worth an evening watch. Well, maybe not. It could leave some disturbing images in your head before you fall asleep…
Running Time: 108 mins.
Quoted: “I fought over there, to stop this from happening here. . . again. Didn’t stop, they’re not going to stop, and neither will I. I’m going to find everyone of them, and send them to the death they prey for.”
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