Emily is played by Maggie Cheung with such intense desperation that she won the best actress award at Cannes 2004. Only a few actresses in the world could have handled this role from a technical point of view.
It's the moral journey of Nolte's character that is the real story in Clean, but Assayas instead focuses on the manipulative habits of an addict, resulting in a mannered study of narcissism and self-pity.
Despite Cheung's efforts (she won the best actress award at Cannes in 2004) and a strong and subtle supporting performance by Nick Nolte, the story could have used a good dose of adrenaline to keep it from often seeming lifeless.
One of those movies that's slightly off the mark in ways that are hard to put a finger on, but it is shot so soulfully and features such beautiful performances that it's easy to forgive the occasional false note.
Clean is one of the few fiction films to evoke realistically the grubby texture of existence for second- and third-tier rock celebrities crumbling under a combination of fading renown and drug addiction.
All the same and despite Cheung's deserved Best Actress win at Cannes, the feigned intimacy with inexpressible bio-emotional conditions like addiction and detox leaves us, as it almost always does, on the outside.