There’s something to be said for a B-movie that doesn’t deviate from formula, that pulls you in to its simple “revenge” plot and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.
Oscar-winner Adrien Brody knows what I’m talking about. Sure, he takes Wes Anderson’s calls, and never turns down a showy TV role in a high profile series — “Peaky Blinders” and “Succession” among them.
But one gets the impression he’d chuck anything with “prestige” attached to it just to play another brooding loner, just for another shot at being the mysterious man of violence who lives through his (voice over) interior monologues, just for another chance to bump fists and share a “My MAN” with RZA.
Nic Cage works constantly to distract himself from whatever troubles haunt him. Cusack loves black baseball cap riffs that suggest he’s a big screen bad guy, and maybe a bit of a scary. Brody? He immerses himself in genre grit, panning for “cool” and not gold in B movie after B movie.
“Clean” is the character’s name and his profession. He’s a solitary sanitation worker who covers his urban New York route in silence, save for the voice narrating inside his dead.
“I’m still looking for answers. I just don’t know the question.” Garbage and junk are his life. He’s cleaning up a “filthy world.” But that trash, “Where does it all go?”
Clean picks up junk that can be salvaged or fixed — bikes to vacuums. Even his after-hours ride, an ’80s Buick Grand National Regal, is junk kept running by other junk.
He feeds a scrapyard dog, paints over graffiti in the sea of abandoned housing (Utica, New York is the primary location). And when he sees her waiting for the bus, he gives a tween (Chandler DuPont) a bag lunch, a kind word or a ride. Her granny’s “She’s not your daughter” and “We don’t need anyone to save us'” earns a “Just trying to save myself,” which is implicit.
Yes, he’s in a 12 step program. Mykelti Williamson is his righteous sponsor and barber who keeps Clean on the straight and narrow. RZA is the pawn shop operator who buys antiques that Clean fixes.
But there’s a mob in town, and the boss (Glenn Fleshler, gloriously vile) has noticed what the guy nobody notices notices. And that’s sure to spell trouble when the boss and the corrupt cops in his orbit spills some blood seemingly to celebrate the dissolute son who gets out of prison.
You could number the surprises in this formulaic “the trashman wasn’t always a trashman” thriller somewhere between “few” and “none.” We can read everything we need to know about the character in Brody’s choice of hoodie and hair style. The reason the little girl is there is for rescuing. The whole point of putting him in a Grand National is for a muscle car/police chase in which the anti-hero can pretend to shift gears.
I didn’t care. Brody is riveting in this part, which he co-wrote with director Paul Solet.
It’s fascinating to read the actor’s self-image into every “good bad man” trope he trots out. And in his umpteenth slumming on that side of the cinema tracks, he’s made a good bad movie, with every scripted shortcoming, every too-obvious “take out the trash” analogy, every vain “I’m not some coddled movie star, I’m a badass” pose just as much an asset as it is a failing.
Rating: unrated, graphic violence
Cast: Adrien Brody, Glenn Fleshler, Chandler DuPont, Mykelti Williamson, Michelle Wilson and RZA
Credits: Directed by Paul Solet, scripted by Adrien Brody and Paul Solet. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:34