Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, Eva Mendes, Keke Palmer, Luis Guzmán, Christa Campbell, Ritchie Montgomery, Robert Forster, Peter Franzén
Solving a crime can be dirty work.
Single father and former cop Tom Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) has an unusual vocation - he cleans up crime scenes. But when he's called in to sterilize a wealthy suburban residence after a brutal shooting, Carver is shocked to learn he may have unknowingly erased crucial evidence, entangling himself in a dirty criminal cover up. Directed by Renny Harlin and co-starring Eva Mendes, Ed Harris, Keke Palmer, and Luis Gusman, Cleaner is a dark, gritty crime thriller that proves cleaning up is the dirtiest job there is.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Thai Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 89 min.
Release Date: 5/27/2008
• Audio Commentary with Director Renny Harlin
• Deleted Scenes
• Digital Copy
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Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 16, 2008)
Except for maybe his mother – and even that’s questionable – no one ever thought Renny Harlin would become a respected director of classic films. However, after hits such as 1990’s Die Hard 2 and 1993’s Cliffhanger, if seemed to expect Harlin to crank out successful low-brow action hits on a par with the work of Michael Bay. He might never win a Best Director Oscar, but it seemed reasonable to believe Harlin could make profitable popular entertain.
That didn’t happen. Harlin continues to work, of course, but he hasn’t smelled a hit since 1999’s Deep Blue Sea, and that one wasn’t exactly a blockbuster. Matters disintegrated so far that even with a cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris and Eva Mendes, 2007’s Cleaner failed to earn a theatrical release in the US. Straight to video – what a terrible fate.
But not one that Cleaner probably didn’t deserve, as it offers a mildly intriguing thriller at best. Jackson plays former cop Tom Carver, a “cleaner”: he goes in and cleans up the messy remnants of messy death scenes. This could mean murders, this could mean granny died and nobody found her for two weeks; if it’s gross and smelly, Tom makes it nice and neat.
One job sends him to clean up a murder scene, presumably after the police finished with their investigation. “Presumably” is the operative word, as Tom quickly discovers some oddities at work in this case. Before long he figures out that he cleaned the scene before the police examined it. From there the plot deepens as Tom tries to find out who committed the crime and how he can keep himself out of jail.
Since he made his name with big action extravaganzas, the crime thriller territory of Cleaner makes it s stretch for Harlin. Nothing blows up, we find no shoot-outs, and no giant sharks eat anyone. The movie lives in a more real world than the usual Harlin fare, and it actually veers into film noir territory at times.
Though that may make Cleaner a change of pace, it doesn’t ensure an interesting product. Actually, the first third of the flick works reasonably well. The nature of Tom’s work offers a neat twist, and the film draws us into the plot in an intriguing manner.
And then it starts to meander. Part of the problem comes from its attempts to dig into a fair amount of backstory. We find elements related to Tom’s shady past as a cop as well as problems with his daughter. That’s a lot to pack into an 89-minute movie, and Harlin can’t pull off all those elements.
Cleaner really tends to drag when it goes off onto Tom’s family tangents. At least the issues related to his corruption maintain a connection to the main plot, but the parts with his daughter don’t go anywhere in particular. They feel tacked on, as if they exist to add emotion and character depth.
That’s all well and good, but a film like this doesn’t need this form of three-dimensional information. We don’t look to a crime thriller for its relationship drama, so these elements distract and contribute nothing to the movie’s success. From start to finish, they feel superfluous.
Harlin demonstrates no feel for storytelling here. He can create good mayhem and action, but when forced to tell a plot, he loses touch. Instead, he relies on stylized photography and flashy camerawork. The latter area becomes a particular distraction, mostly because the various shots call attention to themselves. You can’t focus on the story if you’re too distracted by cinematography.
Cleaner isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not a particularly interesting one. Indeed, the longer it runs, the less it entertains. After a decent start, it wobbles and it fails to engage.
The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B-
Cleaner appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite a few minor distractions, the transfer usually looked good.
A little softness occasionally interfered, though not with frequency. Although I thought a few shots seemed slightly ill-defined, the majority of the flick came across as accurate and concise. I noticed no shimmering or jagged edges, and source flaws appeared absent. Some light edge haloes did interfere on occasion.
I expected the usual stylized tones from Cleaner, and that’s what I got. The film often went with a cool bluish tone, though it sometimes boasted warmer golden hues. Within those parameters, the colors appeared well-rendered. Blacks tended to be a little muddy, while shadows were decent to good. Some interiors appeared a bit hazy, but the film usually provided perfectly acceptable delineation in low light shots. All of this was good enough for a “B”.
In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Cleaner proved perfectly acceptable. The flick didn’t offer a particularly lively soundfield, as the material remained low-key much of the time. Nonetheless, the audio opened up the material well. Music showed nice stereo imaging, and effects provided some good breadth and movement. Street scenes were the most involving, and the flick offered a nice feeling for various environments.
Audio quality was positive. Speech always came across as natural and concise, with no edginess or other problems. Music seemed rich and full, again within the movie’s subdued parameters. Effects followed suit and seemed both clear and accurate. At no point did the audio become dazzling, but it fit well with the movie.
A few extras fill out the set. We find an audio commentary from director Renny Harlin. He provides a running, screen-specific piece that looks at how he came onto the project, themes, locations and sets, cast, characters and performances, cinematography and shot-planning, music, story and script, and specifics about various scenes.
Harlin proves to be a real talker here, as he starts out with a head of steam and rarely lets up through the film’s 89 minutes. He also manages to make the material pretty interesting. At times he focuses too much on technical nuts and bolts, and he also often treats the piece like an Oscar acceptance speech; he thanks half the folks who worked on the flick. Nonetheless, he balances that with creative decisions in a generally satisfying manner as he offers an informative and enjoyable chat.
Six Deleted Scenes run a total of 15 minutes, 15 seconds. These include “Walk-Through” (2:34), “Post-Cleaning Picnic” (1:30), “Rose’s Insomnia” (1:18), “Tom’s Nightmare” (2:40), “Tom at Ann’s” (6:08), and “Tom Trashes Key” (1:29). The first two strike me as filler that do nothing more than extend early scenes in an unnecessary manner. “Insomnia” and “Nightmare” essentially just reinforce concepts already made clear in the film, which renders them redundant. “Ann’s” is just a long piece of nothing that features a twist we figure out elsewhere, and “Key” is also forgettable. None of the deleted scenes provide anything memorable or interesting.
If you don’t want to be stuck watching Cleaner in front of your TV, you can use the Digital Copy. It lets you transfer the movie to a PC, a PSP or a PS3.
Ads for Blu-ray Disc and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder open the DVD. It appears in the Previews area along with clips for Redbelt, American Crude, Untraceable, The Tattooist, Damages Season One, Rescue Me, Hero Wanted, The Contractor, Diamond Dogs, Conspiracy, Revolver, Southland Tales, Outpost, Zombie Strippers and Boondocks. No trailer for Cleaner appears here.
With Cleaner, Renny Harlin leaves behind his action flick past and attempts a crime thriller. He doesn’t do well in this genre, as he makes a fairly boring mystery despite some interesting twists and a good cast. The DVD provides pretty positive picture and audio as well as an interesting audio commentary. I have no complaints about this release, but the movie itself leaves me cold.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.2 Stars
| Number of Votes: 5