Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 2, 2022)
At the age of 29, Adrien Brody won a Best Actor Oscar for 2002’s The Pianist, and it appeared he would enjoy a major presence in Hollywood after that. However, this didn’t quite happen.
While Brody got big roles in prominent movies like 2004’s The Village and 2005’s King Kong, he never seemed to make a mark with moviegoers. 20 years down the road, Brody finds himself in smaller flicks, with 2021’s Clean as the most recent example.
A loner known simply as “Clean” (Brody) lives in an impoverished and crime-ridden urban environment. He works as a garbage man but he also does some odd jobs around the neighborhood.
Clean’s past haunts him, and as a form of potential redemption, he tries to help young local girl Dianda (Chandler DuPont) survive this treacherous setting. When she finds herself threatened, Clean works to ensure her safety, even though this puts him in harm’s way.
Because Brody co-produced and co-wrote Clean, it becomes tempting to refer to it as a “vanity project”. While Clean himself lacks glamour, one could see how the actor might view it as the sort of role that would convey renewed artistic credibility.
However, while Clean comes with delusions of grandeur in terms of themes and meaning, it really just acts as a fairly standard vigilante tale. As much as it pours on allusions to Clean’s haunted past, these tend to feel like little more than windowdressing.
And padded windowdressing at that, for Clean takes its own sweet time to get toward any kind of real narrative movement. We find ourselves stuck with seemingly endless exposition related to Clean and his neighborhood, a lot of which fills much more screen time than we need.
Early on, we also meet a local criminal kingpin (Glenn Fleshler) and his ne’er-do-well son (Richie Merritt). It becomes inevitable that Clean will antagonize that clan and negative repercussions will arise.
If Clean followed these paths with a smidgen of originality, I might not mind the obviousness of the setup. However, it plods down all the anticipated roads and never seems like anything creative or new.
It doesn’t help that the film shifts tone pretty abruptly in the third act. For an hour, we sit through a quiet, ruminative tale of a wounded man, but then the flick suddenly goes into Badass Vigilante Mode.
These two parts don’t link at all, and even the score changes radically to reflect the attempts at heroic themes. This feels intellectually dishonest, as if the filmmakers decided to bail on the downer movie they’d been making and go with something rah-rah to cheer up the audiences.
None of this works, and Clean collapses under the weight of its contrivances and clichés. Inconsistent and awkward, the film doesn’t connect.