Clean (Film Review) – Paul Solet began both his writing and directing career within the realm of horror. Early works from the director; Grace, and Dark Summer, demonstrated great promise. His segment ‘The Weak and the Wicked' in anthology Tales of Halloween further highlighted his talent. In that short sequence, Solet really seemed to find his voice and turned his attention to the seedy landscape of the crime thriller. Now, in his latest venture, Clean, Adrien Brody's eponymous character, a reformed criminal, is dragged back into society's underbelly.
Adrien Brody is an actor whose abilities need no introduction. Since making an Academy Award winning name for himself in The Pianist, Brody has traversed all facets of Hollywood. Brody regularly mixes big name projects such as King Kong and Predators, with the more quirky films of Wes Anderson, as well as obscure indie titles such as Clean. Brody seems content to engage only with productions that intrigue him. With Clean, Brody got involved early on, co-writing the script with Solet. His involvement goes further still as Clean marks Brody's first foray into composing, the star being responsible for the hip-hop beat heavy score and original music that pulses within. With so much responsibility some might expect that something somewhere would give, but Brody's performance is nuanced and thoughtful. Clean is a character that the actor helped birth and the closeness to his on-screen counterpart is evident immediately.
The pairing of Brody and Solet (who previously worked together on Solet's Bullet Head) works beautifully. The two have a clear connection and their writing has created a quirky but cohesive take on a tried and tested story. Beginning as a character study of a former convict and addict desperately trying to atone for his past sins, Clean takes its time getting to its jumping off point. Almost half the film is spent living in the rather depressing and stark day-to-day life of Clean. His lonely existence is spent collecting bins, working out, and enduring traumatic nightmares revolving around his guilt over the death of his daughter. Clean is a haunted man, one who has opted to remove himself from society entirely, but as is often the case, something happens to draw him out. Here it is Dianda (Chandler Ari DuPont), his young neighbour that keeps Clean tethered to the community. In Dianda he sees a version of his deceased daughter. The resemblance sees him transfer his latent protective paternal feelings onto her. After she gets herself mixed up with the local crime boss' son, Clean steps in. In doing so the film kicks itself up a gear and morphs into something completely different.
As thoughtful and contemplative as the beginning of Clean is, this is a film that gets more interesting as it progresses. The calm darkness that has been stagnating is, like Clean, shocked into action. From this point on Clean sheds its more dramatic trappings, evolving into a revenge thriller akin to The Equaliser, Nobody, and John Wick. The latter appears to be what Clean is striving emulate, at least from a narrative point of view. For example, once the inciting incident has occurred there are some Wickian conversations between the bad guys. They discuss how “the trashman wasn't always a trashman”, and that the Grim Reaper (rather than Wick's Boogeyman) is coming. Clean is not attempting to be a contender for Wick's crown however. Instead Clean is a subversion of the format, and its deviations help to find its own voice. Clean forgoes the visual flourishes, style, and grace of John Wick for a more subdued, down and dirty brand of violence. The choreography is less about double taps to chest and head, and more about bloody brutalisation of enemies with brute force and blunt instruments. Brody has been in action-mode before, but as Clean he goes borderline feral with his primal dispatching of foes.
An unconventional but accomplished entry into crime action thrillers, Clean rewards patience. The slow and steady building of Clean's character and circumstances creates an added investment in his future. It's a long time coming, but once unlocked, Clean unleashes some stomach-wrenching action violence onto the screen. The two halves of Clean act as a visual manifestation of Clean's inner psyche and turmoil whilst also creating a film that bridges the gap between sombre personal drama and hard-hitting action.
Clean is released on 4th July.