Over the years, American audiences have been subjected to countless “normal person turned private investigator” stories. I think it’s one of the most often-told types of stories, likely just behind police dramas or westerns. The latest addition to that repertoire is The Cleaner, a story about a middle-aged house cleaner, Buck Enderly, who takes on a new client who, instead of cleaning her house, wants him to track down her estranged son.
To cut to the chase, The Cleaner doesn’t offer anything new to add to the sub-genre of crime dramas, other than a few stars you have seen in other projects, the biggest being Lynda Carter. Yes, Wonder Woman herself is in this film. I was as surprised when I learned that tidbit as I imagine you are reading it.
So, if you need a new crime drama to watch this weekend, you can certainly do much worse than The Cleaner.
Click the YouTube play button to watch the trailer.
To those who are still reading, let’s get down to what works and what doesn’t in this film, rather than just leaving the review on that downer of a note. After all, there’s always more going on underneath the seams of any film – good or bad.
For starters, the direction by Erin Elders is not without merit.
Elders starts the film in medias res, hooking the viewer into the internal mystery behind the mystery, which I won’t spoil here, as I still believe this is worth whatever you pay to rent the film. The thread of that bigger mystery helps to make the mundane activities Buck (King Orba) has to withstand when he’s not out investigating tolerable, as those moments don’t feel like they were given much care. This might be an intentional decision by Elders to place the viewer in Buck’s mindset, and if it is, that’s a smart way to get us to care. If that’s not the case, it feels like filler in an already overlong film, instead of anything of any consequence to the larger story.
Like the direction, the acting by King Orba and the rest of the cast seems to take a fascinating approach. Instead of trying to do anything flashy, it seems the direction the cast took to their performances in the film was to play it understated. What’s even more interesting about the approach is that it works for the kind of film this is trying to be. The overall vibe was I got was that this cast of characters are actual people with complex problems that can’t be solved neatly.
However, the casting works against this vibe. Namely, Luke Wilson and Lynda Carter. Now they aren’t in the film enough to work against what Elders is trying to build, but their roles are distracting enough to pull the viewer out of the film and breaks their immersion because they just saw Owen Wilson’s brother and Wonder Woman within five minutes of each other.
Speaking of immersion, I think the screenplay by Elders and Orba could’ve used a little more time in the cooker. The bigger mystery that we’re teased with at the beginning doesn’t feel like that big of a deal until quite late into the film, and there are splashes of tone like some gallows humor with Orba and other members of the cast that don’t quite work in the film. I understand the ambition to throw in some jokes so that the film isn’t this dour crime drama, but at the same time, the jokes don’t feel true to the heart of what this is – a crime drama.
One of the best things about the film is its cinematography. Shot by Jeff Tomcho, the camera feels like a character of its own, as the camera is positioned and moves in a manner, not unlike an onlooker who can’t help but watch.
While the score isn’t anything to write home about, I do appreciate the score nonetheless. There is a concerted effort by Brad Oberhofer to create a distinct sound for this film, and it lands somewhere between folksy and jazz, often employing a combined piano & acoustic guitar to create a sense of unease and tension.
All things considered, The Cleaner isn’t the best crime drama you could be watching this weekend, but I think it presents itself in a manner that is intriguing to watch, at the very least.
The Cleaner is now available to rent or buy on all the major digital retailers.
Until next time!