While Paul Solet is credited as the director, producer and co-screenwriter for this gloomy, Taxi Driver-style tale about a lonely man with lots of firearms, the film’s star Adrien Brody was the other screenwriter, another one of its producers, and even the composer of the deep register, synth-based score. So if that doesn’t make this a vanity project for Brody, then it’s at least a bit of a folie à deux, given the end result is so pretentious and derivative.
At least there are a few redeeming features in the supporting cast, insluitend, in reverse order of redemptiveness, the always welcome RZA as a gun-shop owner, Chandler DuPont as an ingenue street kid called Dianda who inspires protectiveness in Brody’s protagonist, and Hollywood’s favourite balding bad guy, Glenn Fleshler. Fleshler is always worth watching, whether he’s playing a Chechen mobster as he did in the first season of Barry, a gun-dispensing clown as he did in Joker, or Shamrayev in the latest film adaptation of The Seagull. In Clean, he gets to let rip as an outer-boroughs-accented mob boss named Michael who runs a drug-smuggling business that uses a fish shop as a front. Somehow he manages to make the growled words “clean the squid” into a terrifying command.
But he’s not the main character. That would be Clean (Brody), a brooding refuse collector who works alone picking up trash and junk but has, as hinted at by his name, an impeccably tidy lifestyle. He repairs abandoned vacuum cleaners, feeds stray dogs, and makes meals for a fellow recovering addict from his 12-step group who is Dianda’s grandmother. This is because of the burden of guilt he carries for the death of his own child (Victory Brinker), whose fate we learn about in flashbacks; hier, Clean is less hirsute but has a heroin problem.
Clean’s usual routine of brooding, fixing things, collecting rubbish and crying is disrupted when he gets entangled in the business of Fleshler’s Michael, leading to an incredibly violent yet strangely risible climax. Apart from the occasional bit of voiceover from Clean, our hero barely says much at all, leaving it to Brody to do a lot of acting with those big sad eyes. It makes the film feel a bit like a silent movie but not one of the good ones.