Cleanskin Review

How clean is your conscience?

A bulbous, fat man chokes a paid for woman while he rides on top of her in a paid for hotel room.

And assigned to protect this bloated, agent of the state is a Sean Bean shaped agent of destruction.

Ewan escorts the unsatisfied escort from the room, having literally been stiffed out of her full payment, and proceeds to accompany the man he’s been assigned to protect to another hotel.

Once there, they’re lethally engaged by a masked man with a gun who somewhat incredulously shoots dead a couple of armed guards before incapacitating Ewan, killing his accomplice and making off with a briefcase full of semtex.

The day after, an explosion rips through a crowded London restaurant where some MP’s who supported the Iraq war are dining.

Having recovered from his failed mission, Ewan is swiftly pressed back into action on a secret state assignment to prevent these terrorists cum freedom fighters before they make any further use of their stolen explosives and easily lead martyrs.

Cleanskin is anti terrorism parlance for an enemy agent who is unknown because they have yet to conduct any terrorist activity.

In short, it’s what a radicalised UK citizen would be called if they joined a terrorist cell.

Directed, written and produced by Hadi Hajaig, his film by the same name is an interesting exploration of the reasons why regular folk can be turned on to terrorism.

Dealing in shades of grey rather than black and white, Hajaig crafts a story that takes in all the basic elements of modern London’s multicultural society; but Cleanskin never really manages to scratch beneath the surface of the Muslim stereotypes reinforced for so long by our respective media sources.

Sean Bean is Ewan, a man with a rather predictable past who is tasked with tracking down and stopping this terrorist cell before it can wreak any further damage.

Playing to type, his character is a typically gnarled and grizzled fellow who’s horrific past motivates his rather two dimensional approach to dealing with whatever obstacles lay in his path.

His younger nemesis Ash, played by Abhin Galeya, is a far more nuanced character; a university educated UK citizen and proud Muslim who’s torn between rising up and confronting the sins of the west, and choosing the good life with a white woman he fell in love with while studying to become a lawyer.

Galeya’s character is the most interesting of all, as he consistently struggles between the merits of living as a Muslim or that of a non secular citizen.

Of course, the idea of why an educated man would choose the path of terrorism instead of seeking to change the world through non violent acts is never properly reconciled.

Cleanskin is graphically violent and an interesting watch, as the subject matter Hajaig wraps his rather formulaic narrative around is entirely relevant to London’s multicultural way of life.

But for all the human sentiment revealed through Ash’s back story, its attempted portrayal of both sides of secular coin still feels hollow.

The justification for potential terrorists, either those who strap explosives around themselves or the kind that sit in Westminster all day in their Savile Row suits, doesn’t quite ring true.

And I sure as hell wouldn’t trade my conscience with either side.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

March 2012