Clean film review: Adrien Brody’s passion project succeeds as an homage and more | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, May 28th, 2022  

Clean

Studio: IFC Films
Director: Paul Solet

Jan 23, 2022 Web Exclusive
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A decade after the action and revenge drama genres were, ahem, taken over by thespians like Liam Neeson, Oscar winner Adrien Brody shows us his own special set of skills in his new film Clean. And Brody’s uniquely harrowed-to-the-point-of-hollowed gaze, as he splatters more and more gore on his hands, helps him far surpass cinema’s reams of Neeson wanna-bes.

Brody (of The Pianist and The French Dispatch fame) by no means carries Clean alone, despite shouldering more than his fair share as not only co-writer but also score composer. That’s despite having rap legend RZA as a secondary character instead of coordinator of music, though the Wu-Tang legend’s turn as a pawn shop owner who sells the eponymous protagonist weapons is charming and unfussy. Clean is arming himself to protect Dianda, an inner-city tween long teetering between realizing her considerable promise and succumbing to the criminal scum submerging her neighborhood. When the corner thugs who have long flirted with Dianda lure her into their drug den, Clean arrives in time to rescue her.

His deft handling of those heavies hints at a past, also glimpsed in flashbacks, far more storied than his garbage man day job would leave audiences to believe. Don’t roll your eyes— Brody’s protagonist is a trash truck driver named Clean, and he begins the film with an equally on-the-nose voiceover. However, the movie strays clear of grubby cliches. That’s thanks in no small part to co-writer and director Paul Solet’s tighter than a trash compactor shooting of both the gruesome action scenes and equally grim drama in between. The film is as much a drama and thriller as retro action piece, set at an assuredly subdued pace that lets Brody’s portrayal of the guilt-addled Clean properly breathe, while also allowing the gory fight scenes to comparatively pop.

The film’s slow-burning plot also allows room for Clean’s other key selling points: escalating tension, and audience anticipation for an inevitable showdown between the trash can man and Michael, a gangster of Eastern European descent with a surprising connection to Dianda’s attackers. Veteran character actor Glenn Fleshler shows cavernous range from his laugh out loud buffoonish turn as a very different mob boss on HBO’s Barry. Here, he laudably echoes James Gandolfini with a Balkan immigrant twist. He’s by turns charismatic and bootstrap-y filleting fish at the market that fronts his underworld empire, before rearing goosebump-inducing menace when facing Clean or a number of other foes.

So yes, in lesser hands Clean would’ve been a cliched mess. But thanks to the unflinchingly bloody action scenes, performances played with even more deathly seriousness, and a tone as grounded as it is grim, Brody’s action-drama passion project succeeds as an homage and even more, rather than yet another knockoff.

Author rating: 7/10

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