Clean is a passion project of sorts for one Mr. Adrien Brody. He serves as the film’s star, co-writer, co-producer, and even composer. It took about a decade to get this film from his imagination, to reality. Once director and co-writer Paul Solet signed on (who also worked with Brody on the underrated Bullet Head), things finally got rolling.
This movie is entertaining, and gets the job done when you’re in the market for some gritty action. The fact that it’s doing so well on the iTunes charts shows it definitely has an audience. As of this writing, Clean is number two in dramas (behind House of Gucci), and number five overall. Not too shabby.
Our protagonist (Brody), known only as Clean, is a trash collector in Utica, New York. He lives a humble existence, focusing on work, and service to others. We sense he’s doing this to keep himself busy, and away from past demons. He also attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings, where his barber, Travis (Mykelti Williamson), serves as his sponsor. Essentially, this is a man with a past, trying his best to live in the present. To do good, “where his feet are,” as Travis reminds him. However, as with many films of this type, the past eventually comes calling.
The strength of Clean lies in Brody’s performance. There’s a lot more to Clean (the character) than what is on the page, which I imagine Brody and Solet both counted on while writing the script. I theorize there are sections of it that just say, “emotional expression here,” because that’s what he does best. This is a man who would easily fit into the world of silent film. The scenes of Clean restoring and repairing items are somehow captivating. I could have watched several more of those, and they involved no dialogue whatsoever.
Brody’s chemistry with the other actors is also very good. Especially with Williamson, and the young Chandler Ari DuPont (who plays daughter-figure Dianda). There is also a little scene in a paint shop that was sweet and light. It was a welcomed break from all the heaviness.
Speaking of the paint shop, it is one of the few scenes involving a woman that feels natural. Clean’s banter with the salesperson (Dinora Walcott) is so real, it’s almost like it was unscripted. It may have been. The way women and girls are written otherwise in this movie is lacking. If Brody and Solet collaborate again, perhaps adding a female screenwriter to the mix may help.
Don’t get me wrong, the depictions of women aren’t hinging on misogyny or anything. It just feels like a few pieces of the puzzle are missing. They feel two dimensional, and cliched “damsels in distress.” The two main actresses (DuPont, and Michelle Wilson) are clearly talented, and do what they can with the characters, but more material for them would have been nice.
The Crime Boss
While Glenn Fleshler (Joker) is quite menacing as local crime boss Michael, he and his son are characters we’ve seen so many times. There are hints of The Godfather, here, from the name, to hiding behind the Catholic Church. And the son who wants nothing to do with the family business. Michael and his son Mikey are interesting to watch, and have a (somewhat) unexpected moment at the end of the film, they just feel a little familiar.
That Film Noir-style Narration
My first time watching this movie (I’ve seen it twice), I was annoyed by the narration. This is an actor gifted with a very expressive face, so that dialogue was mostly unnecessary. The voice he used was also a strange sort of Batman and Marlon Brando hybrid.
The difference between how Clean actually speaks within scenes, and how he sounds in the voiceover is distracting. And neither sound like Adrien Brody’s natural (and much easier to understand) voice. That said, the second time through, it didn’t seem quite as jarring. Maybe because I was expecting it by then. Or perhaps it grows on you.
Clean is haunted throughout our story by the memory of a deeply personal tragedy. Unfortunately, once we see said tragedy play out, it doesn’t hit quite right. What should have been heartbreaking became almost laughable, due to the fairly implausible situation. It’s just one example of this movie approaching being great, then missing the mark.
There are a dozen other scenarios that would have made that scene far more believable. I get that they were going for something unexpected, but the character was too young for it to work well.
The Ugly… But Kind of Cool
I will level with you: this movie is very violent. Nearly to the level of a horror film. Honestly, though, it works in its favor. The effects are well done, and feel shockingly real. These are the types of kills that would be messy, and we see every splatter. Nothing takes me out of a violent scene more than a killer who walks away without a scratch or bloodstain. That’s not a problem, here. Clean is not afraid to get himself dirty.
I’m not sure what it says about me that I enjoyed this level of pipewrench-wielding hyperviolence, so… let’s move on.
Is this the Citizen Kane of the 2020s? No. Does every movie need to be at that level to be worth your time? Also no. I am admittedly likely not the target demographic for this movie. Yes, Adrien Brody is my favorite actor (as I’ve mentioned here ad nauseam), so that helps a bit. However, I believe the ideal viewer for this movie is perhaps younger and more masculine than myself. This may well become one of those movies like John Wick, or Taken, that develops a very loyal audience of re-watchers over the years. At the end of the day, sometimes movies can just be entertaining. And bloody.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Clean? Comment down below!
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