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CLEANER

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, Eva Mendes, Keke Palmer, Luis Guzman
Director: Renny Harlin
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Sony
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: May 27, 2008

ďDeath is tragicÖbut itís also big business.Ē

Film **1/2

A movie making its debut on DVD is nothing new these days. In fact, todayís market is flooded with countless titles of direct-to-DVD titles. And more often than not, many of these movies feature the kind of big named stars weíre used to seeing on the big screen.

Cleaner represents the best possible example of a DVD debut with a big lineup of notable stars. Not only do we have the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris and Eva Mendes in the cast, but the movie also happens to be directed by Renny Harlin, a name associated with thrilling big budget projects. I must say Iím kind of bewildered as to why this easily marketable feature didnít hit the multiplex.

At any rate, the movie itself turns out to be a pretty mixed bag. As a character study it really works, as we get to know a character that weíve never really seen in the movies. But weíre also promised something of thriller, and in that regard the movie is rather uninspired.

Jackson creates another memorable performance as Tom Carver, a former cop who now serves as a cleaner. Heís a specific kind of cleaner in that he comes in to clean up crime scenes after the bodies have been taken away. Tomís also a widow who lives with his only daughter, Rose (Keke Palmer), and their relationship has seen better days.

For his latest clean up call, Tom arrives at the upscale home of a powerful man. But he goes about the job as he would at any other residence. But the next day, Tom discovers that the crime scene he just wiped clean was no ordinary one.

It turns out this particular crime scene was set up for evidence to be wiped away clean. Tom realizes he has been used as a pawn in a scheme to rid evidence tied to a police corruption ring. Realizing this, he seeks advice on what to do from his former police partner, Eddie Lorenzo (Harris).

Tom also grows close to the dead manís wife (Mendes). He feels an obligation to inform her of the howís and whyís behind her husbandís death, even though he doesnít have all the answers to the questions being asked. Tom also manages to attract the attention of police officials, who see him as something of a guilty party.

For most of Cleaner, I must say I was most impressed. What surprised me most was the fact that Renny Harlin, who we know for extravagant action pictures like Cliffhanger and Deep Blue Sea, was able to direct a most effective character study. But strangely enough, I hope Harlin doesnít stray too far from his thrilling action expertise as a result simply because when I see his name on a movie, I immediately want those big screen thrills.

But although Harlinís directing and Jacksonís terrific performance should give the movie strength, the end result is unsatisfying. The last fifteen minutes are the big disappointing factor, as the movie reminds itself that itís a thriller and therefore must end itself like a typical Hollywood thriller. And being that the movie runs only 90 minutes, itís only more unfortunate that the conclusion doesnít pack a strong punch, in addition to being a bit confusing.

But while I wish that Cleaner had delivered more in the tension department, its strengths had me realize that you should never judge a movie by the fact that it made its debut on DVD. In fact, I can honestly say that out of all the direct-to-DVD movies Iíve seen, this is definitely one of the better ones.

Video ****

This Sony release boasts quite a tremendous looking picture, and judging by some of the visual techniques established by Renny Harlin itís easy to assume that this movie was very much intended for the big screen. The anamorphic picture delivers a crisp, clean looking image with a strong level of detail and amazing color appearance, even in the simplest shots.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is most effective for what is mainly a dialogue-driven piece. Surround sound comes into play in some unexpected segments, and dialogue delivery is quite strong.

Features **

Included is a commentary track from the always-engaging Renny Harlin, who is always informative with details about the production. We also get Deleted Scenes, and several bonus trailers for additional Sony releases, including Starship Troopers 3, Redbelt, and Southland Tales.

Summary:

Cleaner managed to surprise me and let me down at the same time. I appreciated it mainly as an effective character study, but left unsatisfied by the thriller plot driving the movie. Hardly a bad movie, but as I mentioned earlier just a mixed bag.

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