There is one scene in Clean that sticks out to me. A supremely-groggy Nick Nolte sits at a small fast food joint and gets a small salad and water while Maggie Cheung (playing his widowed daughter-in-law) goes up to the counter and orders a monster burger, french fries, and onion rings with a large coke. It's her first real meal since getting out of prison and it's his first meal with her for god knows how long. There's a lot of symbolism, even though it's simple, being used in the scene, and it gives depth to a complicated relationship (everyone thinks she Courtney-Loved her rocker boyfriend). How did director Olivier Assayas, a seasoned pro, allow this to be one of the scant few scenes that hold any real fascination? Furthermore, how did he allow himself to write something so damn drab and insipid?
Emily (Cheung) spends the first 15 minutes of the film being the annoying Yoko to Lee (Nick Cave dead ringer and cohort James Johnston), an aging rocker trying to get a deal for his anthology. She gets nabbed for heroin possession just when she finds Lee's body but is saved by Lee's manager. Out of jail after a quick stint, she meets with Albrecht (Nolte), her father-in-law who has been raising her son Jay with his wife. It's apparent to all involved (besides Jay) that Emily needs to get clean, get a job, and take custody of her child. The journey is held up by a brief stint in Paris where she still takes pills, gets fired from a job and finally begins to detox after her musician friend Tricky (playing himself) ignores her requests for help with the custody issue.
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Alternating between French and English, the film hinges on the duplicitous dealings of Diane de Monx (Connie Nielsen), a merciless businesswoman who kicks things off by drugging a fellow employee in an effort to move up the corporate ladder. Now firmly ensconced as second in command at the Volf Group, Diane begins negotiations with animation giant TokyoAnimé, the world's largest and most successful producer of high quality sex cartoons. Diane is, in fact, a double agent working for rival firm Mangatronics, who - recognizing that a deal between Volf and TokyoAnimé would put them out of business - have hired her to sabotage the ongoing talks between the two companies. Unfortunately, despite a veneer of poker-faced iciness, someone is on to Diane's plans, and she suspects that either her antagonistic coworker Elise (Chloë Sevigny) or hunky negotiating partner Hervé (Charles Berling) is the villain attempting to blackmail her.
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