Nick Nolte acts with sandblasting purity as Albrecht Hauser, the grandfather of a fatherless boy named Jay (James Dennis) in the eloquent, evanescent Clean. The movie splits its attention between Albrecht's determined attempt to create a solid home for the boy and the up-and-down attempt of Jay's drug-addict mother, Emily (Maggie Cheung), to gain enough stability to claim parental rights. Everyone blames Emily, an admitted junkie, for the fatal overdose of Lee, Albrecht's son, a once-hip rock star. Only Albrecht sees through the simplicity of that guilt trip.
Nolte's conviction seals the cracks in the narrative and etches a rare portrait of a man who knows his limits and must gut-check his own traditional values to connect with his grandson's mom. Nolte's performance lends heft and universality to writer-director Olivier Assayas' portrait of Emily - a ravaged, still-beautiful person, the former host of a Parisian MTV-style music-video show - as she tries to put her life together after spending six months in jail for playing her sex-drugs-and-rock-'n'-roll string out to a bitter end.
Clean (Palm Pictures) Starring Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte. Directed by Olivier Assayas. Rated R. Time 110 minutes.