This gritty Brit flick doesn't feature flashy car chases or helicopter chaos. There's minimal explosions and a contained bodycount. This isn't a Hollywood blockbuster. It's a thoughtful, thought-provoking thriller; shot at street level, gritty and violent, in a bleak and barren current-day London
Cleanskin features a sterling performance from Sean Bean as a hard-man undercover agent. He's well matched by his opposite number, Abhin Galeya, who plays Ash, a radicalised British Muslim man. There are two other stand-out turns; one of them especially spine-chilling when an experienced Middle Eastern activist comes to the UK to wreck a little revenge and show the home-grown `freedom fighters' what will be required of them in the long run. The following scenes would make anyone flinch and demonstrate not just a determination to be ready to die for a cause, nor to kill those who are perceived to be involved, but to follow the path of violence to its inevitable end. Paced as an action-thriller, Cleanskin uses flashbacks to skilfully develop its underlying themes. It shows the emotional manipulation of the agents on each side of the conflict. Most are motivated by grief and revenge, unable to let go of the grievance and so perpetuating the violence. The protagonists exude angry nationalism and repressed rage - but the film doesn't dwell too long on them, and wraps its arguments around a fairly standard, solid plot familiar from every `who can you trust' espionage-thriller. It does hit a few off notes -- the Muslim cleric who radicalises his flock is something of a cliché -- but the subplot involving Ash's English girlfriend is gripping. We understand more of his motivation watching her drunken university years through is eyes. He drifts away from the party crowd, the flirting and jeering and braggadiccio, and becomes altogether more serious. And more sinister. You'd expect the writer to tie this plot thread up with a stereotypical conclusion: him a terrorist, her a happily married mother of three. Instead nothing is quite so clear cut.
On top of all that, you have the main plot `stop the bombers, save the world' which drives the action and Sean Bean's character onwards. A clever, entertaining and engaging movie. It might not be art, but it's definitely worth two hours of your time. 8/10