"Clean is far from spotless."
THE "IMDB" PREMISE:
"Tormented by his past, a garbage man named Clean attempts a quiet life of redemption. But, soon finds himself forced to reconcile with the violence of his past."
OUR [TO THE POINT] REVIEW:
Whether it be on the news or in the movies, violence is unavoidable. In Academy Award winner Adrien Brody’s latest film Clean, however, it’s much more cathartic than informative or exploitative.
Even though the film is directed by Paul Solet, it’s clear from the very beginning that Adrien Brody is calling most of the shots in this film. That’s not a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, Solet does a great job at capturing Brody in a light most have never seen him in; however, Brody steals the show both in front of and behind the camera. And If I had co-written and co-produced the film I was starting in - which Brody does here - I would too.
Despite Brody’s clear command here, this collaboration is far from an uneven one. Having worked together before on Bullet Head, the two are clearly comfortable with each other. So as Brody delivers all of the emotion, Solet delivers all of the action. The resulting combination is an indie lovechild comparable to the likes of Drive, Taken, and John Wick.
Despite being reminiscent of all of those films, Clean is still distinguishable because it’s more grounded to reality. While our protagonist is a retired assassin and “boogeyman” of sorts, he certainly isn’t a stuntman and he didn’t retire to spend time with his family. In fact, as we come to learn, he used to have a daughter. Rather than die at the hands of a foe though, she dies as a result of his negligent drug use.
Clean is not only the title of the film, but it’s our protagonist's name, what he aspires to be and do. In addition to rehabilitating himself and learning to forgive himself for the death of his daughter, he’s also doing his best to stay away from trouble. Moonlighting as a garbage man (ironically), he remains mostly off the radar only striking up small relationships with local vendors like the pawn shop owner (played by RZA) and a young neighboring girl who reminds him of his daughter.
The film kicks into gear when the girl is nearly assaulted by the son of a local mob boss and his friends. Then and only then does Clean decide to intervene. However, when that mob boss finds out, he uses his power and reach to force Clean into a deadly game of cat and mouse...not realizing that he may actually end up being the mouse.
Even though the film does hit a lot of familiar beats I still found it extremely enjoyable, especially when Brody starts to Clean house...literally. There’s one line he says right before the climax that literally gave me chills.
CHARACTERS / ACTING
I realize that this film will not be for everyone. Hell, it might not even be the best type of film in the “mysterious stranger with a particular set of skills” genre, but Brody’s embodiment of the everyman archetype really won me over and made it really fun to root for him.
Now, this obviously isn’t the best thing Brody’s ever done, but I honestly think it’s certainly one of his best. Prior to watching it, I heard that this was one of the actor’s dream projects. Going into it, knowing that, you can see how purposeful his performance is. Even though I doubt that neither this film or the performance will score him a second Oscar, it looks and feels like the kind of role that is its own reward.
Glenn Fleshler, who has kind of become the go-to antagonist over the past few years continues his streak here as said mob boss. While he does make for quite the adversary for Clean, I wish they would have gotten more screen time together. Also - unrelated - but he really gave off some Marvel’s Kingpin vibes here. Whether he was inspired by D’Onofrio’s take on the character remains to be seen, nevertheless he is still a highlight.
SPECIAL EFFECTS/ MAKEUP/ DESIGN
One of the film’s weakest aspects is its effects and makeup. This is a very violent and bloody movie, however you only ever see a slither of that violence and blood. The climax is enjoyable and all, but it’s also so dark that you can barely see what’s happening at times. Sometimes we see a character get bludgeoned to death by a wrench. Other times, the violence is implied. And it feels like it was done intentionally. As I already pointed out, the violence isn’t the film’s point. It’s just too inconsistent to stick the landing.
SCORE / SOUND DESIGN
Above everything, the most surprising fact about this film is that in addition to writing, producing, and starring, Brody also composed the score too. For his first score, it sounds nothing like a novice made it. Not only does the music perfectly set the tone for the film, it carries us through Clean’s state of mind as he flashes back and forth and struggles to let the person he used to be back in order to finally do some good.
Despite the name, Clean is far from spotless. It might not even be all that refreshing. But Brody’s memorable and grounded performance - alongside his numerous other contributions - are more than enough to still make this a solid entry in an otherwise played-out subgenre.