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
Robert Redford is an icon. From the same DNA strand as Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood, younger viewers might not be as versed as to their contributions over the past fifty years of film. In fact, when I asked a just 20-something person at the office about Mr. Redford, I got films like The Last Castle, Spy Games and The Horse Whisperer as their reference to the name. No Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. No The Candidate, and I won't even begin to explain the bewildered expression I received when I mentioned All The President's Men.
Based on this ignorance (the word sounds a lot stronger than it is intended), I don't expect to see the character driven The Clearing burning up the box office figures when it is released amongst a host of summer blockbusters. With it's three main stars being in their 40's, 50's and 60's, I expect that younger audiences might prefer some strange movie about a radioactive spider bitten school boy that opens the same week-end.
The Clearing is a story about a successful businessman, Wayne (Redford), who is kidnapped by down on his luck Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe) and held for a ransom of $10 million in a secluded forest. Motive being solely money and a second chance at life, Arnold toys with Wayne's wife Eileen (Helen Mirren) and the F.B.I. sending them clues and cryptic instructions in efforts to secure his bounty. Like most kidnapping films, the movie can only end one of two ways really, and don't expect that to be revealed here.
The Clearing is not the first kidnapping movie and will be far from the last. Sometimes it is done well (Man on Fire), sometimes bad (Proof of Life) and most times, Hollywood and test audiences determine the ending or the amount of drama they will allow their leading cast to perform (Ransom).
That is why The Clearing was, well refreshing. As a small, independent film, The Clearing doesn't have to answer to the harsh brass that sway their approach based on night vision goggles in darkened theaters. It can tell a story the way the filmmaker intended; raw, intense and without all the loose ends tied up like a front of the tree Christmas present.
Instead, director Pieter Jan Brugge can let his actors do what they do best and wow us with the way they work a camera and capture an audience using a look or a sneer. Pieter assembled the perfect cast for his directorial debut. Dafoe is subtle as the kidnapping brainchild, but he is also able to project a vulnerability that could have been awfully laughable in the hands of a lesser actor. Redford, coming off two paycheck roles in Spy Game and The Last Castle, is equally convincing as a man flawed in character and without excuses. When Wayne is confronted about his infidelity, he doesn't try to skirt the issue and there are no attempts to justify the action. Instead, his deep blue eyes are able to relay back to the audience that of a man who wishes things could have been different and who seems genuinely concerned about the hurt he may have caused others.
But maybe the best acting within the films running time is in the performance of Helen Mirren. Having to deal with the uncertainty of her husband, the confrontation with his mistress and an F.B.I. agent that tends to cause more harm than benefit, Mirren projects a woman of strength and stamina that is believable in her actions and in her approach to finding a fitting conclusion to the complex ordeal. Handling the situation with class and grace, yet frequently in panic over the possibilities, Mirren gives what is undoubtedly her strongest on screen performance in the past 10 years.
It was a bit of a surprise in 2004 when The Clearing appeared at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. Not that it isn't the type of film that these festivals build their foundations upon, but the fact that this was the first starring vehicle for Redford to be shown at the festival to which he created. Looking at his last 10 or so role choices, a better selection could not have been made.
So for any of you younger folk that might find themselves to the end of this review, do yourself a favor and start to amass a viewing catalog that will include Redford, Newman and Eastwood while we still have time to enjoy their continued efforts. These great men might never be equaled. Heck, you don't expect one day to see an Adam Sandler Salad Dressing do you?
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