Cleanskin review

Cleanskin is a well-made action thriller with a little too much flab. In attempting to give the lead characters some depth and address serious issues about terrorism in the UK it drags slightly and is perhaps over-egged when a leaner attitude with more brevity would have been welcome. All praise to writer-director-editor-producer Hajaig though. This is a vast improvement on his previous effort Puritan (2005). It's good looking and has a certain flair even if credibility goes out the window come the climax.
The chief protagonist is young Muslim Ash, convincingly portrayed by Galeya. He underplays admirably, by turns sardonic, nervous, confused, frustrated and single-mindedly determined as he is turned by recruiter Nabil (Polycarpou) into an extremist who will head a cell of terrorists, or as they perceive themselves freedom fighters. We see his beginnings into this life via flashbacks - at university he splits from his pretty party loving girlfriend (Middleton) and a few years later is embroiled in a dangerous mission to murder a former army captain at his farmland retreat.
This somewhat stalls the momentum of the present day scenario however. The film begins with Ash and his cohort stealing semtex from overweight businessman Sam Douglas, for a bombing campaign in London - and it's up to ex service man now counter terrorist agent Ewan Keane (Bean) to track the perpetrators down and bring them in. Kean's partner in this mission is young father Mark (the always impressive Burke) but as events transpire the plot becomes murkier with double crossings ensuing. Come the end one doesn't know whom to trust.
It's all done with confidence and some elan. The action scenes erupt every 10 minutes or so and are skillfully staged and edited, eliciting real excitement - there are many killings adroitly depicted. The cast all give good accounts of themselves though Bean has little to do between the carnage except look mean and moody. Old pros Rampling and Fox are ideal as his sly superiors however and Polycarpou is effective as the manipulative recruiter.
By the end though the narrative has overreached itself, culminating in confusion, small twists that fail to satisfy. The lengthy flashbacks bring a stop start feel to the proceedings but this bold actioner still has energy to spare. Overlong but watchable, overambitious but solid.

Cleanskin at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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