Film Review: Cleanskin

Tuesday 11 March 2014 by


I was recommended this film when I admitted a great love of both Sean Bean and Tom Burke. It helps to have film buffs as friends who can give you the name of slightly obscure films to watch on a quiet Saturday!

Cleanskin tells the story of Ewan (Sean Bean), an undercover agent who is set on a mission to stop a UK terrorist cell. Told from both sides of the story, it’s a typical race-against-time action film, trying to encapsulate the complicated and fearful idea (and reality) of terrorist attacks on home soil. In honesty – not my cup of tea.

Don’t worry too much about following the plot on this one – if you don’t get it immediately, you’re bound to catch up. It’s not too complicated, although it presumes to be. Ewan, an ex-military man having served in Afghanistan, teams up with Mark (Tom Burke) under the guidance of Charlotte (Charlotte Rampling) and goes after the terrorist cell responsible for stealing semtex and blowing up a busy restaurant.

The leaders of the cell, Nabil (Peter Polycarpou) and Ash (Abhin Galeya), are aware their time is running out and so rush to set off more bombs.

This is a violent and bloody film, often in the excess (the violence against women is a little hard to stomach to say the least), with lots of serious looks and intense dialogue. Bean, Burke and Galeya are resoundingly reliable characters, with plenty going for them but not much room to fly; instead, they are limited by the plot as it jumps and sways around the ideas of revenge, terrorism and fear. It does none of them particularly well.

Interest faded speedily as we stepped in to the meat of the story – not even the combined forces of Bean and Burke (it sounds like a comedy duo when written like that) could raise intrigue. Poor Rampling was left looking mysterious and serious with a drought of decent lines that really needed to be improved.

As a character, Ewan is not that likeable, although they try to drum up some sympathy with backstory and brooding Sean Bean moments. Even Mark as a character falls a bit flat when given the notion of some depth (an alluded-to baby seems to come to nothing significant). The only one who feels genuine in his sympathetic moments is Ash – his backstory told in sweeping flashbacks and his inner torment well structured.

The final plot twist, although a twist that took me a while to figure out, was certainly not gasp-worthy. It felt half-planned and hasty. After the exit of Mark as Ewan’s sidekick, Ewan floundered and never redeemed himself. Much like this film – the promise of a gripping drama, and the delivery of a patched-together race around London with some violence and serious stares thrown in.

Oh? And the story behind the title “Cleanskin”? Well you have to wait to the final minute to find out what that means.

At least my film buff friend had warned me I might not enjoy it…

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