Director: Hadi Hajaig (Puritan, The Late Twentyeth)
Screenplay: Hadi Hajaig
Producer: Hadi Hajaig
Starring: Abhin Galeya, Sean Bean, Charlotte Rampling, Peter Polycarpou
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 108 min.
In a world where we’re constantly on high alert and on the look out for anything that even resembles a terrorist threat, its no surprise that we’ve seen a rise in movies and television shows which deal with the “imminent threat” but with so many different stories tackling the touchy subject matter, finding new and interesting stories to tell is getting ever more difficult. Hadi Hajaig’s Cleanskin attempts a different approach to the subject, rather than focusing on an international threat focusing instead on a young man named Ash, born and raised in Britain, who becomes involved with a terrorist cell in the country.
Ash is a young college student studying to be a lawyer when he meets Nabil, a Muslim man who is recruiting young men for the cause; the cause being promoting Muslim values to people of the faith. Already feeling like an outcast thanks to some of his classmates, Ash finds solace in Nabil’s message and soon he changes his entire life, leaving his girlfriend (a Caucasian woman he was ready to have a baby with), leaving school and focusing all of his time on the religious organization and spreading the good word. As he becomes more active, Nabil sees an opportunity to expand Ash’s contributions and soon the young man’s duties are explanded to include terrorist activities.
Interwoven into Ash’s story is that of Ewan (Sean Bean), an intelligence agent who becomes involved with the terrorist cell when a man he was following ends up dead and a suitcase full of explosives goes missing. Ewan is asked by his supervisor to track down and eradicate Ash and his network but to do so quietly and with as little modern tech as possible to avid detection by the rest of the agency. A strange request and one that doesn’t seem to bother Ewan much but which hangs heavily throughout the movie; something strange is going on with the agency’s approach to the situation though it’s some time before it all becomes clear and even when the truth emerges, the details are so muddled it’s not absolutely clear why Ewan was asked to deal with this under the radar.
Cleanskin is at its best when the story focuses on Ash and his growth from disconnected young man to terrorist cell member. Watching a bright man fall under the influence of a radical is fascinating but the story is constantly jumping back to present day and Ewan’s search for the group and the mixing of the two stories never quite works. The shift to Ewan’s search is always jarring and that particular story thread loses traction as the movie progresses and I found myself constantly hoping we’d get back to Ash only to return for a brief period and be taken out of it again. The attempt to tell both stories, even though the two are linked, hurts Cleanskin’s narrative and leaves two stories that are never fully realized even if they do come to natural conclusions.
There’s a half-hearted attempt in the movie’s final moments to explain what “cleanskin” means but the scene feels like an afterthought, just another example of how poorly key information is parsed in a movie with so much potential which is thrown away in an effort to tell a more involved, action oriented story. Although it tries and sometimes even succeeds in being engaging overall, Cleanskin is a quickly forgotten entry into a sub-genre of movies that has titles more memorable than this one.
Cleanskin is available on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, September 11th.
DVD Extras: Making of featurette.
Click “play” to see the trailer: