Fri, Mar 9, 2012, 00:00

Directed by Hadi Hajaig. Starring Sean Bean, Abhin Galeya, Charlotte Rampling, James Fox, Peter Polycarpou 16 cert, general release, 108 min

SEAN BEAN is Ewan Keane, a war veteran and secret service wonk who lost his wife in the London bombings. He’s a perfect foot soldier for shady handlers James Fox and Charlotte Rampling to send out in pursuit of a terrorist cell and a cache of Semtex.

Elsewhere, Bright Young Muslim Ash (Abhin Galeya, excellent) is falling under the sinister spell of radical cleric Nabil (Peter Polycarpou). As a “cleanskin”, a would-be terrorist with an unblemished record, no one will see Ash coming. Will conscience get the better of him or will Sean Bean get him first?

Cleanskinis the third feature from British indie film-maker Hadi Hajaig and a change of pace from his previous excursions into low- budget psych-horror. The writer, director and producer of Cleanskinis evidently a talented guy. There’s a genuine post- Bournecrunch in the fight scenes and the chase sequences go like the clappers.

Hajaig wants to make the British Parallax Viewand he’s halfway there. By the third act we’re aware that no one in the world of black ops and terrorism cells can be trusted. (Who new?) In common with TV’s Spooksand current critical wow Homeland, Hajaig’s script incorporates sneaky nods to recent political scandals and conspiracies.

This is a big movie trapped inside a tiny one. Tussles over British- Islamic identity are seamlessly incorporated. A boorish Middle Eastern assassin with a fondness for diabolical jumpers and Mr Bean marks an audacious and deftly handled shift between dark Borat comedy and unvarnished horror. There’s a lovely frisson between Bean and Rampling that makes you think what James Bond and M could be.

Unhappily, budgetary constraints do tell on the finished product. Cleanskinworks hard with make-do joins, library music and tiny interiors but can’t quite rise above them. As for that fake headline about Spurs winning the Champions League . . .

Still, we can name 10 Hollywood attempts to grapple with the war on terror that don’t work nearly as well.