Tribeca 2021 Review: Adrien Brody Wrestles With His Past in Paul Solet's Crime Thriller, CLEAN
Adrien Brody is Clean, a sanitation worker for the city of New York by night, a good neighbour by day. In his off time he rebuilds discarded electronics, cleans up empty houses and looks after Dianda, trying to protect her from the downtrodden neighbourhood they live in. Glenn Fleshler is Michael, the local drug lord who uses his fish mongering business as a front. Michael’s son is coming out of prison as the story begins and he chooses a local gang over his father. As gangland violence spills out into the streets and threatens the safety of Dianda and her grandmother, Clean has no choice but to get involved and relive his past.
Adrien Brody works again with his Bullet Head director Paul Solet. Together they worked on the screenplay and this is their modest take on the Man With a Past type of thriller. Clean is a smaller, definitely quieter version of those larger films yet it carries more emotional heft than some of those popular predecessors. By all appearances Clean looks to be a project for Brody to share his range not only as the burdened anti-hero but it also marks new opportunities for the actor to create the story as the film’s co-writer and contribute to the film’s score, with waves of synthesized ambience.
Clean is a story about consequences. Clean carries with him the burdens of his past life. Though no one knows it, everyone should fear Clean. He seems unfazed by the drug and gang activity going on around him, and it's not due to weariness. He does, though, have a past that haunts him and he often wakes up from the nightmares that come with it. There are hints that he is not just a simple garbage man who repairs discarded items from the trash and pawns them.
In the present, Clean will eventually cross paths with the local gang and they will suffer the consequences of messing around with Diandra and her grandmother. This of course brings him under fire from Michael and his drug ring. But Michael is going to feel the consequences of how he treats his son as well. Clean rightfully condemns organized and small-time crime and their impact on innocent lives.
Clean builds towards a violent climax as these worlds collide and Clean can no longer stay in the shadows. Here the violence isn’t a reward, simply a reality. This is the world that these characters live in. Still, we will admit, as action fans, since we have been waiting for this cauldron to boil over and for Clean to, well, clean house, it is a shame that’s is mostly shot in the dark with people dressed in dark clothes. Some clarity would have had more of an impact in those ‘Fuck, Yeah’ moments.
The world that Solet and Brody have created is the dirt that gets under your fingernails, the scuff of work boots against wet pavement, the rumble of a V8 resonating off of abandoned homes, the thumping bass of a gangland soundtracks reverberating off the walls of their squat. It’s enough to see that this is a part of the city that the city would rather forget existed. You try to keep your hands clean but there’s always grit, a stain, a reminder that in the absence of order you must create your own.
Brody and Solet give us a character who bears the emotional brunt of his past, his torment, and maybe begrudgingly he must go back to it. Clean has no choice but to go back to his previous life, a life that torments him to this day, to protect those who he cares about. Not content with just delivering a thriller that depends on excitement, they've made a compact vision of the Man With a Past type thriller and given it more emotional heft than most of its predecessors combined.