(On Cable TV, February 2013) There is a curious tension at work during Cleanskin, a British thriller opposing ideological terrorists and the special operatives chasing them down. While the film may indulge in a series of excessively violent episodes in which covert operatives are cleared kill terrorists by any means necessary, it’s also willing to allow itself a lengthy series of flashbacks to explain how a politically-motivated student can take up terrorism as a cause. At times, Cleanskin shows terrible mistakes by government agents before taking a late-film turn into conspiracy theories. Does this mean that the film is complex, or merely incoherent? There’s no right answer if viewers are willing to view the film solely as a genre exercise, where “might makes right” isn’t incompatible with vaguely leftish good sentiments. What’s more certain is that Sean Bean turns in an efficient performance as an Afghanistan veteran pressed into service as a ruthless killer; the film gets weaker the longer it spends away from him, such as in the interminable flashback scenes explaining the life history of the lead terrorist. (The other noteworthy performance in the film belongs to Silas Carson, who brings bone-chilling menace to a relatively minor role.) It does seem, at time, that Cleanskin is trying to be a mean-and-lean action thriller with shoot-‘em-down villains even as it tries to bring ambiguity and complexity in a more dramatic framework. It doesn’t entirely work if only for pacing reasons: Just as the film seems to accelerate on a thriller level, it stops dead for half an hour of dramatic background that doesn’t do much but muddy the waters. While there is a lot to admire in the final result, there is also a bit too much in the final mix. For a film that is so good at being without frills, the added fat just takes away from what could have been a truly better thriller.