Clean 2022 Adrien Brody Film Review

Clean (2022), directed by Paul Solet | FEATURE FILM REVIEW

With Clean (2022), Adrien Brody and Paul Solet team up once again to sift through the trash in this mid-tier, dark action thriller which straddles the edges of character identity and middling action thrills. 

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Enter thy Brody

Adrien Brody, as the action star, is one of the more peculiar aspects of the Award-winning actor’s often fascinating career. Certainly, he earned a substantial amount of respect when he casually won an Oscar for his performance in The Pianist (2002), a performance that is layered and impressive, but he has spent a majority of his career since that point actively trying offbeat things. One of those things being, yes, Adrian Brody the action star. 

His latest film, Clean, which comes to your screens courtesy of IFC Films, has him falling directly into action star mode. It’s not exclusively in the manner of the one-liner spewing and sarcastic toned way that has been popularized in blockbuster cinema since the 1980s but running the tight line between John Wick (2014) and a modern Liam Neeson film like Honest Thief (2020) or Cold Pursuit (2019)

Adrien Brody Clean Movie Review
Adrien Brody as’ Clean’ in Paul Solet’s CLEAN. AN IFC Film Release.

Down and dirty duo (No write-off)

Although a majority of the action roles for Brody, in the beginning, had been in spectacle-driven flicks, King Kong (2005) and Predators (2010) included, recently his output has been more thriller driven. The grounded and lower budget style tends to fit his performance style better anyway. 

As it turns out, Brody must be well aware of this and he partners up with Paul Solet once again for Clean. The two previously collaborated on the oft-overlooked and shockingly fun Bullet Head (2017) and their reunion sparks a fascinating collaboration dynamic. Brody even serves as a co-writer with Solet on the movie, a task that certainly allows him to dig into the character with relative vigor, and will be addressed more in depth shortly. 

The issue that remains with Clean is that the film strictly adheres to a well-trodden narrative and plotting. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as it allows the film to be a relatively easy watch in a consumable way, but with its characters and concept it’s difficult not to crave more out of it. Its simplicity is a double-edged sword in this case as it follows the blueprints and formula with conviction, it’s just a shame that it ends up feeling like a film with no real distinctive identity of its own. 

Chillin’ as a villain

While the film struggles to find a real identity in its script, particularly as it runs through the motions of a well-trodden anti-hero concept that spirals into a mundane third act of gangster and thug killing mayhem, it’s the reformed villain character trying to accomplish some good in his life that ends up being the best part of Clean.

Brody as an actor (and in this case writer) is perfectly suited for the role of the garbage man named, you guessed it, ‘Clean’, who is trying to escape a past of violence, sorrow, and regret. It’s in the more nuanced character choices by Brody in his performance, boy howdy can he act with his eyes, and in smaller moments that carry the film through its more generic plot progressions.  

Just the way that Solet and Brody showcase Clean’s strange attraction and disgust towards weapons, particularly guns, through camera work and performance is worthy of note and it’s in these moments that Clean makes a stake to why the film should be seen. 

It’s like watching a junkie, now clean (absolutely one of the reasons this film is titled as such), come into contact with the drugs that ruined their life, knowing all too well the itch and urge to try just once more. 

A recyclable character

Building on this is his loneliness in his life and the relationships he has with the everyday people around him, Clean creates a deeply human dynamic. Just the character’s relationship with the young girl and her family on the block rises above the usual action thriller tropes. Not to mention, I could use an entire cinematic universe that revolves around RZA as a local pawn shop owner and his interactions with a changing community. 

As a character study, Clean aptly excels and it’s the first half of the film with its artful unveiling of his persona, sans perhaps the egregious flashbacks to his previous life, that works splendidly. 

The yellow-night light visuals of a soaked urban landscape parallel the character’s own battle of light in the dark. It’s perhaps an overtly hammering choice to make Clean a garbage man, but the rather subtle way the gangster plotting starts to amass around him before he realizes what is happening marks Clean as the artsy thriller to start off 2022 on the right foot. 

Adrien Brody Clean 2022 Movie
Adrien Brody in Clean (2022). An IFC Films Release.

Be gunnin’ 

It’s the impressively strong first half that makes the second half feel so middling, in such an unfortunate way. Clean takes this intriguingly constructed character, one crafted from strong execution more than anything wholly original, and then proceeds to topple him into a generic new era Liam Neeson formatted film with some John Wick-lite style action. 

The pressure for the third act to ‘be gunnin’’ for its viewers to deliver some action is felt throughout. 

With the family he befriended in tow, the film quickly succumbs to so much of the generic action thriller tropes and style that have dominated mid-tier cinema as of late. It’s still relatively well shot, sans how dark the finale act gets in the big gun fight, and it’s not shocking that Brody is able to pull off the action set pieces with its bursts of violence, but it’s hardly as memorable as the first half with its artistic character work.

Clean Movie Paul Solet Adrien Brody
Clean (2022). Directed by Paul Solet. Starring Adrien Brody. An IFC Films Release.

Chillin’ as a villain II

Perhaps a large part of this has to do with the lacking strength of a big villain to match the intensity and depth of Clean. It’s a shame really since the Big Bad is played by Glenn Fleshler, who is a phenomenal character actor in his own right. If you get a chance to see him in the fantastic horror comedy Werewolves Within (2021) from last year, I highly suggest it. 

The character work regarding the gangs and familial material is rather bland, outside of the idea that Fleshler’s Michael is an active racist trying to force his son to be as racist as he is, but it never matches the strong writing around Brody’s Clean which creates a lopsided experience. If the idea is of that John Wick ilk, where the understanding is the hero is often the lesser of two evils – only due to their reformation – then Clean falls short in that area. 

Not fully clean until you’re zestfully clean

Clean is hardly a misfire as a mid-tier action thriller. In fact, with the right mindset, it’s a film that is perfectly capable of handling its material, adding in enough character depth and working in enough action in the latter half to satiate most audiences who stumble upon the film. 

Brody owns the role fully and director Solet smartly spends a large portion of the film digging into the tropes of its anti-hero to allow the actor to add nuance to the role and give him enough material to embrace the artistry in the first half. 

It’s only when the film sacrifices its character study to further invest in the formula that it tends to show the cracks in the foundation. Generic villains and a run-of-the-mill, gun-totin’ third act leave the audience with a far different impression than how the film started. Clean is a perfectly capable film and one that continues to showcase the potential for its director and star, but it’s one that never quite soars with its concept. 


Editor & Artwork: Richard Williams
Images courtesy of IFC Films

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewer / Presenter

Writer, podcaster, cinema fiend, drive-in mutant, kung fu fanatic, horror hound, vulgar auteur, and sometimes human being. I’ve been writing about cinema for over ten years now, dedicating my time to all genre cinema. Co-creator of Blood Brother Film Reviews and co-host of the No Franchise Fatigue podcast.

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