Clean is clearly a labor of love from Adrian Brody, who serves not only as the lead actor but also as the producer, composer, and co-writer alongside Paul Solet, who is also the director. The movie tells the story of Clean, a nomad who stays alone and makes a living out of picking trash, painting abandoned buildings, and repairing stuff. He also offers not-so-seldom rides to Dianda, a teenage girl from his neighborhood who reminds him of his deceased daughter. Everything seems alright until Dianda is savagely saved by Clean from being gang-raped by a group of drug addicts. Clean’s casualties include Mikey, son of drug kingpin Michael. This naturally enrages the boss, who goes all-in on Clean for revenge. What follows is a gruesome collision that, as one would expect, adds to the body count of Clean’s wrench.
The view we are given of Utica, New York, fits perfectly with the mood of the movie as well as the character of Clean. The city feels as worn-out as Clean does. As he walks from street to street picking up garbage, we hear him complain about the “endless onslaught of ugliness” that surrounds him. The fact that he “can’t wash away the past” no matter “how hard I try” is a fitting irony for his name. Also, his name reflects the fact that he has come out of his previous life of killing and drugs. But what makes his name more ironic than anything is that he is always on the front foot of violence despite trying to seek redemption from his past. In fact, what brings him face-to-face with violence is his tragic past, which itself was a result of the kind of life he led as a killer and a drug addict.
The scene right in the middle of the movie is strategically placed there. Clean cuts himself in his hand while attempting to smooth the outside of an abandoned house. There’s blood. Immediately after, he notices a little girl (her daughter) inside that house (which is impossible). He breaks in and follows the kid, only to find himself in front of a red box, within which is a wrench. And he grabs it right away. Two incidents precede this event:
- He is hit in the head by one of the many thugs in the city.
- A bunch of guys mess with him when he tries to get Dianda out of their circle.
The blood that comes out of his hand symbolizes the thugs in the events mentioned above. The little girl in the house signifies Dianda, the daughter figure. And the wrench signifies his true nature. So, the blood reminds Clean of his daughter, which he then uses as the perfect excuse to seek violence. In other words, the thugs lead him to Dianda along the only path he has ever known, i.e., violence.
As for Clean’s daughter, we come to know about her from the many flashbacks. We also learn how she died, which is ludicrously impossible and drains the moment of its intended emotional punch. However, the fact that we are given absolutely no information about Dianda and her grandmother makes the motivation of Clean’s killing spree very surface-level. But we forgive this for the sake of his sense of fatherly protection (no thanks to the screenplay).
Considering how bleak the narrative of “Clean” is, Brody’s acting, as well as his music, pretty much make up for it. But we cannot say the same about the choreography, which appears very unmotivated. The movie doesn’t need much explanation other than what we have done here. And clearly, the story appears to be a sacrifice made for the atmosphere. We do not know why Adrien Brody decided to lend his creative prowess to this cliché of an action thriller, but his ability to create something out of nothing receives not a single doubt throughout the movie.
Altogether, if you are a lover of visceral, old-fashioned action thrillers where a wrench is preferred over a gun, “Clean” is your type.
‘Clean’ is a 2022 Crime Drama film directed by Paul Solet.