FILM REVIEW: Cleanskin

Cleanskin is an independent British film that brings a new dimension and grittiness to the terrorist spy genre. Hadi Hajaig wrote produced and directed Cleanskin and you can clearly see his devotion to making the best film he could on a delicate but relevant subject. Cleanskin “a terrorist unknown to national security services“ as it is described in Wikipedia and this film takes a long hard look at what that is and what it means.

Sean Bean’s Ewan is an ex SAS operative who is now working undercover for the British Security Service when his target is killed and he gets shot trying to stop the theft of some explosives. We then follow the path of who has the explosives and their plans for them which enivitably leave to some very impressive explosions. It is here that we are introduced to Ash, played expertly by Abhin Galeya, through the clever use of flashbacks during which we learn how someone can get to the point where another life means nothing to them.

Meanwhile the Security Service have a terrorist cell active in London and needs something done about. Charlotte Rampling’s Charlotte McQueen is part of the old guard and brings in Bean to take down the cell by any means necessary. What follows is a deadly and relentless search to track all the members of the cell before it is too late.

At first glance Cleanskin resembles a feature length version of Spooks with a splash of Bourne thrown in but in reality it feels more like the kind of tight and gritty drama you would expect to find on America’s HBO channel which is known for some of the best storytelling around. It is easy to make a bad guy one dimensional but this film allows you to understand the main antagonists views without ramming them down your throat.

Where there is action the film does not hold back but not at the expense of the drama of suspense both of which are given just as much importance as the action sequences. The camera work is visually daring at times and tries to invent something not seen before. This helps with the realistic feel of the movie that makes you believe that something like this is just around the corner.

The cast is on good form, especially Abhin Galeya, who has the hard task of giving us a character we want to hate but cannot help but empathise with. Bean gives a strong hard silent performance that is only broken by small moments of contemplation. Rampling is used effectively and Tom Burke is believable as Bean’s partner hunting down the cell. The very human element is brought to the screen by the always lovely Michelle Ryan who has a brief yet vital role in the film.

The use of real and well-known locations adds that air of authenticity to the look and feel of the movie. Sometimes the fight scenes were a bit too messy due to the director’s desire to put his audience right at the heart of the action instead of making things clearer with the use of wider shots however there is no denying that the fights are brutal and unforgiving.

Cleanskin delivers an engaging and visceral experience that will keep you hooked to the very last scene. This is good news for the independent British film industry and I hope other writers and directors are as brave and bold as Hadi Hajaig in the future.

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GS Rating: 4/5
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