The film is heavy-handed in its attempt to be subtle and even Adrien Brody’s fantastic score can’t save the day, but Clean has its moments.
There are a lot of Hollywood combinations: writer-director, actor-director, musician-actor, and so forth. The rare exception, however, is Adrien Brody (The French Dispatch) in Clean. As the actor-composer-writer of the film, he’s doing the near impossible by wearing three hats and wearing them well. He and director-screenwriter Paul Solet (Mars) penned the script together and they certainly had the right idea with Clean, albeit without the vision to elevate it to a truly watchable movie.
When Clean (Brody) gives up a life of crime for a day job as a garbage man, the demons of his hometown make him second guess the decision to retire. His only hope lies with Dianda (Chandler DuPont), the friend of his now-dead daughter. Clean keeps an eye on Dianda and brings her school lunch every day. His entire character is summed up in an encounter with Dianda’s grandmother, Ethel (Michelle Wilson), who reminds Clean that he is not Dianda’s father just because he lost his own. She also tells him he is a good person, which he flatly denies. Clean has a lot of goodwill in the community. He feeds a dog at a scrapyard, repurposes what he finds there, sells it to a pawnshop owner played by RZA (The Man With The Iron Fists), and uses that profit to buy cheap paint and nails. It’s all so he can repair local abandoned houses that criminals and kids routinely live in and destroy. But when one of those criminals goes too far with Dianda, the old Clean — rather, the real Clean — resurfaces and the film sets up a bloody reckoning in its final act.
It’s no secret that Brody’s time in front of the camera — between the most recent season of HBO Max’s Succession and his 2003 Oscar win for The Pianist — has been spent in the Hollywood wilderness. Without leading roles in Wes Anderson films, he might have slipped off the radar completely. What can be said about that time in straight-to-DVD (and then VOD) purgatory, is that Brody was working on his music and it paid off. The score for Clean is genuinely good. His seamless combination of hip-hop drums and orchestra strings leaves one wondering if RZA did the score. The music in the film is decent but it pales in comparison to Brody’s score, which elegantly highlights obscene imagery like an exploding garbage truck running into a McMansion. In the quieter moments, Brody ditches the drums and strings for a haunting organ during the flashback that shows exactly how his daughter died.
Often, watching a movie star in something he wrote can be eye-rolling. That is only partially the case in Clean. The film isn’t unforgivable in moments where Glenn Fleshler’s (Billions) Irish gangster goes on a racial tirade. No, the issue with Clean is its commitment, bordering on obsession to, pardon the pun, “clean” up the streets. It would be easy to say this was written by white guys who wanted to make art house John Wick in the hood, but that actually sounds like a good movie. Clean makes the crucial mistake of blaming half the city’s problems on people of color and the other half on racist gangsters. None of those people of color are written as three-dimensional and, ironically, Fleshler’s son, played by Richie Merritt (White Boy Rick) is the only criminal with a backstory of any interest.
Most issues with Clean will get overlooked in the total viewing experience because the ending is true to the film’s ethos. With 20 minutes to go, Brody is sawing off a shotgun and attaching a canister of nitrous oxide to the barrel to essentially make it a cannon. Watching Clean dismember goon after goon with force makes it kind of worth it by the end. Just as Clean crosses his murderous finish line, he voiceovers a minute-long epilogue where the camera holds on Dianda’s happy face as he ponders if he saved her or if she saved him. Perhaps the better question is this — does Clean work as an indie character study or an action thriller? The film is heavy-handed in its attempt to be subtle and even Brody’s score can’t save the day, but Clean has its moments.
Clean is in theaters, on demand, and digital as of January 28. The film is 94 minutes long and not rated.
- Clean (2022)Release date: Jan 28, 2022
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