After decades of happy marriage and a life surrounded by luxury and wealth, Wayne Hayes, a successful car-rental businessman and his loving wife Eileen, are looking forward to a tranquil and comfortable retirement. However, the dreams of a peaceful life will eventually crumble like a pack of cards, when at gunpoint, Arnold Mack, a disgruntled former employee, will abduct Wayne in broad daylight right in front of his mansion in Pittsburgh. Suddenly, the life of the accomplished entrepreneur and seasoned negotiator rests entirely in the hands of his nervous, yet ruthless kidnapper who has nothing to lose and everything to gain. This is Wayne's most important negotiation in his life, nevertheless, has he the strength to succeed? Written by
This was, hands down, the biggest surprise of a film that I have encountered in a very long time. I had to watch this film twice to fully understand and appreciate the value placed behind it. The Clearing was one of those films that didn't do well at the box-office, so people didn't bother seeing it when it was released on video. I must admit, I was one of them. I thought Redford and Dafoe doing another classic kidnapping film would be just another canister in the Hollywood recycling bin, but I was wrong actually, I was dead wrong. This film brought more than just a kidnapping caper to the table, it brought some family drama, the unbreakable bond between husband and wife, and the idea of the American Dream as told by two ends of the spectrum. I can see why this film didn't do well with the brainwashed by action/adventure crowd, because there actually needed to be some thinking involved to truly appreciate this captivating film.
To begin, this is not a linear story. I loved this. It kept me guessing throughout the entire film as to what was happening to Redford's character while the drama at home continued to build. Here we have the events happening to Redford going on in real time and how the pressures of the immediate threat are being handled, but then you have the family struggle, which is taking place over several days to show how easily something like this can devastate and ravish a family. This also allowed us to become more emotionally attached to Redford's family as well as to Redford himself. Strangely, I found myself equally attached to Willem Dafoe's character due to my experience living in the middle of the income line. There seemed to be some honesty and truth in the banter between Redford and Dafoe that I honestly never saw coming. Here we had two humans out in nature discussing life and death as if this was their final moments on the planet. We had front row seats with the ability to hear how these two grown men handled the stress of their day to day activities, and how we could somehow relate.
This was a film about relating, about understanding the pressures that these individual people were experiencing. Redford was perfect, as this tired father who lusts for life, but just doesn't quite show it until the final moments are settling in. Dafoe should have won an Oscar for his role in this film as a very humble kidnapper who takes pride in what he is doing as well as does it with the highest amount of kindness in his heart. He does it for his wife. This brings a smile on my face to say, but this is a film about wives. Each of these men are going through life to ensure that their wife stays happy and in love with them. Dafoe thinks it can happen by having enough money so his wife will not work, Redford sees it too late and reminds his wife of a happy time in their marriage. It is sad, from one married man to another it is a very personal and touching story about the woman that is your soul mate. Then, as if director Pieter Jan Brugge, didn't stab our hearts enough, he gives us this expanded look at Redford's family and the inner struggles they are facing with not knowing if their father is alive.
What is so interesting about this is that before this event took place, there was not much of a family dynamic going on in Redford's house. They were stale, and strangely this horrific event brought them closer together than imagined. We get to see the unparalleled emotion behind Helen Mirren that I have not seen in a very long time. If she would not have done this film than Charlotte Rampling would have equally been as good in fact, I kept thinking of her in this role and how skilled she would have been. Don't get me wrong, Mirren was perfect, but Rampling would have been perfection.
Add to this mix some beautiful cinematography that adds to both the tension and beauty of the story. Some of the scenes with Dafoe and Redford in the woods were so crisp and bold that I thought I was right there in the woods with them. The way that Pieter Jan Brugge doesn't keep the camera directly on our actors just builds more tension and more excitement along the way. I thought this was a brilliant film that should have received more attention than what was given to it. I realize that some will find it slow and methodical, but I found it this stunning portrait of the American family and American dream bundled up in the strangest of forms, a kidnapping film. There was definitely some creativity at work here, and the final product shows us that!
Grade: ***** out of *****
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