Cleanskin with Sean Bean is a very different kind of film which could have been so much better if did not attempt to mix a portrait of how an intelligent young British Muslim becomes a terrorist with a confusing conspiracy about the extent to which the secret service and its political masters caused deaths through bombings. A series of time shifts in the film does not also help. I have tried to disentangle the two story lines, Ash (Abhin Galeya) is a university law student who begins to question what is right and what is wrong about the British role in the middle East when he comes under the influence of a British Cleric who grooms him and other young men to become terrorists. Under his influence Ash turns on his English University fellow student who drinks heavily and enjoys passionate sex with him and others. They break up but meet again years later and have sex again. This makes him question what he has become
In the meantime Ash asks to be given work and is put to the test helping a comrade imported from the middle East to assassinate a retired British soldier who now runs horse stables. Ash recruits a friend as requested and the trio set off with the intention to capture the soldier and then execute him on camera. The soldier realises something is happening and is able to fight and kill the recruited man. Ash is able to knock out the soldier but pretends that he has not discovered the man’s sister and her baby child hiding in a room upstairs. He then films as the terrorist cuts of the man‘s head. He later learns that the man had killed he woman and the baby and is criticised by the assassin and the Cleric for his soft heart at the inevitability of collateral damage in a war. He is sent somewhere for training and on return he is prepared for a suicide mission. He is to kill by blowing himself up an American Senator active in the War on Terror who has come to England for the marriage of his daughter. The reception happens to be at a hotel where Sean Bean is staying and is able to stop by killing Ash just before he detonates the bomb.
However all this is something of a sub plot .Sean Bean is a creative recruited to becoming an undercover licence to kill operative for the UK after being a professional soldier. He is 100% loyal to his country and the Service although with a tendency to act first when confronted with bomber after his wife, unconnected with his work was killed in a bombing incident.
When on a mission to flush out terrorists he and a colleague pose as Semtex sellers with the same group involving Ash however the plan goes horrible wrong and his colleague is killed and Bean wounded because the colleague’s gun had his clip of bullets removed. Sean follows this up with a new colleague specially assigned by his immediate chief and discovers the prostitute used by his colleagues was also having a regular relationship with an Arab who persuaded her to remove the bullets, he forces her to lead him to the address she has used but Ash is too clever and not only gets away but kills the prostitute. (This is one of many improbable aspects of the story),
Unfortunately the failure of the first mission where Semtex gets into the hands of the terrorists and leads to a bomb and significant casualties, something which in effect Bean and the Service unintentionally caused. With a General Election looming with would be political dynamite if the media got to know and the Minister puts pressure on Bean‘s immediate boss, Charlotte Rampling, to get the matter quickly sorted by any means and she appears to delegate this to Bean. He and his new colleague are sent to capture an Arab believed to have intelligence. When captured the man says he is like Bean and misunderstanding the situation Bean sets the man on fire and kills him. He finds nothing incriminating in the man’s coat or elsewhere and is riddled with guilt at having killed an innocent man. He is told to lie low with the new colleague in as it happens the same London hotel as Ash is aiming to kill the American Senator. He becomes suspicious of his colleague, they fight and he kills the colleague having the impression he was being set up to be got rid off as a cover for the failed missions and the killing of the innocent man. He finds a safe deposit key and number written on a piece of paper in the actual jacket coat of the innocent man previously killed (in the bag of his colleague) ( Why he has this wirth him is also odd).
He leaves the hotel before the authorities arrive after he has killed Ash and stopped the bomb. As he leaves the hotel he spots the suspicious adding of a suitcase to a luggage trolley and the suitcase explodes destroying the front of the hotel where he was staying,
He escapes without injury and we see him open the safe deposit box and finds a file and a tape which reveals that man was an undercover Secret Service agent with incriminating evidence about the duplicitous role of the service. Rampling had employed the new colleague to get the evidence and frame and then kill Bean blaming him for all the deaths and mistakes and thus protecting her own position. He visits Rampling at her home, kills her making it look like suicide with a copy of a report he has drawn up with the other evidence on the failings of the service.
Now I think this is the position leaving open who placed the second bomb and why because with flashbacks and the interaction of the two stories it may be intended to add up top something very different. Do I care? No.