Cleanskin is a very well-produced action drama about politics and terrorism today. Sean Bean plays Ewan, a world-weary and battle-hardened Secret Service field operative; the kind who does the hard work of tracking down active terrorists and putting bullets through their heads. As the movie opens, he is undercover as the bodyguard of some kind of weapons merchant, and they are attacked by a terrorist who steals a suitcase of semtex, a powerful explosive. We then follow, concurrently with Ewan’s investigations, a fairly stereotypical (in realistic terms, not in Hollywood terms) group of Muslims who are carrying out a number of bombings in London, but we also follow their members up close and personal, seeing the situation from their point of view, hearing all their arguments. The movie sort of leaves it open whether these guys are crazy fanatics or whether they are justified. For most of it, the story leans towards their being fanatics, but a twist by the end is clearly intended to make the audience question which side are the worst offenders.
The movie is exciting, well-acted, well-directed and generally well-made, containing quite a bit of violence, much of it (regrettably) drawn from the real world, such as a video-taped execution (which thankfully takes place off-screen). However, the end twist is just too much of a conspiratorial stretch to be even half-way believable. I have often, years ago, wondered if it could be true that Western governments are themselves behind various terrorist attacks, for the purpose of gathering support for right-wing political regimes who thrive on having a clear enemy to point the finger at, but when you look into these things, as Noam Chomsky has also concluded, it always turns out not to be the case. There might – and might not – be a few individuals in the military who are that crazy, but elected officials simply aren’t – no matter how great assholes they can be in many other areas of policy. It would require too large a conspiracy to work, and it wouldn’t be possible to contain it.
The troubled state of affairs between the West and some of the Muslim world is indeed a dilemma of great proportions; my own solution is that the strongest party, the West, should be the more magnanimous and collaborate with Muslim cultures in ways that benefitted both (education, etc., helping to raise their standard of living). It’s certainly possible. Sadly, the West is still working by old-fashioned assumptions about power politics and keeping the weaker nations in their place, which is what mainly causes the problem. On the other hand, as a historian my attitude also is that this sort of thing is largely inevitable. All cultures go through certain stages of development, very broadly speaking, and if Islam had been the major culture (complete with a modern movement in the direction of secularism) and Christianity the minor one, the roles would simply be exactly reversed.
But this movie is good for debate; it triggers some thoughts and will make most people fire up their particular ideas and arguments about foreign policy and terrorism.
This blu-ray screener was a nice package, contaning subtitles, two sound mixes, a trailer and two short TV featurettes.
Cleanskin is out on DVD and blu-ray 2nd July 2012.
Director: Hadi Hajaig
Cast: Sean Bean, Abhin Galeya, Charlotte Rampling, Peter Polucarpou, Tuppence Middleton and others.
Runtime: 108 min.