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Wayne and Eileen Hayes appear to be the ideal couple. They have a
successful business, live in a wealthy Pittsburgh suburb, and have two
well-adjusted grown children. But when Wayne is kidnapped at gunpoint
and held for ransom by a former employee, cracks in their armor begin
to show. Based on the kidnapping of a Dutch industrialist, Pieter Jan
Brugge's The Clearing shows two different takes on the American dream.
Robert Redford plays Wayne, a self-made car-rental executive who has become emotionally estranged from his wife and children. Willem Dafoe plays Arnold Mack, an unemployed man who sees himself as a failure and is unable to handle the success of his one-time employer. The film tells parallel stories that operate in different time frames, a unique device that deepens the puzzle. One thread revolves around Wayne, handcuffed and held at gunpoint by Arnold, being led through an area near the Great Smoky Mountains. The other revolves around Eileen (Helen Mirren) and her interactions with FBI investigator Ray Fuller (Matt Craven) who has set up his unit as a control center inside the Hayes home while the couple's children look on.
Redford is outstanding as the intense business tycoon, and Mirren gives one of her best performances, portraying a tightly controlled suburbanite wife who refuses to panic even when her husband misses a dinner party she told him to be on time for. She keeps going even when it is obvious that something has gone wrong -- swimming in her pool, holding a birthday party for her grandchild, and waiting before calling the police because she thinks that her husband may have left her. Eileen discovers through the FBI search of phone records that her husband has continued seeing another woman, a relationship he'd told her was broken off. She visits Wayne's mistress (Wendy Crewson), and retains her composure, showing emotion only in the way that she purses her lips. Always self-assured, she wants to know only where their trysts had taken place and what gifts he had brought her.
As Wayne and his abductor walk through the forest, they engage in conversations about their lives and about opportunity in America. Wayne says that he made himself what he is today, and that Arnold had the same opportunity but failed. Both play a cat-and-mouse game, but treat each other with grudging respect, and it is clear that they've both paid a price. Wayne admits that his he has lost the love of his wife because of his overindulgence in his work, and the lack of attention he paid to his children. He tells Arnold, "I love my wife... we have two beautiful kids, and I'm just getting to know them."
The Clearing is a quiet, thoughtful film that slowly builds suspense that is not released until the very end. Although there are some contrivances in the plot, the acting is superb throughout and the film works as a psychological thriller, a meditation on loss and regret, and a character study of two flawed but loving people who have forgotten how to express their joy in living.
A great deal of viewers will pan The Clearing for being too "not down
to the point", an intelligent suspense thriller about a wealthy man
(Redford) kidnapped by an angry ex-employee (Dafoe) and held for ransom
until the rich business owner's wife (Mirren) pays the price. Although
The Clearing is creatively put together, I just doesn't get right down
to the point. What you expect it to be is a kidnapping thriller but it
turns into mostly a big discussion between Redford's character and
Dafoe's character. Not that that is an insult to the film, their
discussions are very carefully and skillfully written, it is just that
we are expecting this movie to go places, it doesn't go.
The other half of the film consists of Mirren's character dealing with the F.B.I. and the kidnapper to get back her beloved husband. Her part of the film also consists of her chats with her two grown up children (played by Laurel Canyon's Alessandro Nivola and Soul Survivor's Melissa Sagemiller) who are visiting from out of town to comfort their mother in her time of need. The scenes of dialogue between Mirren and her son are very engrossing due mostly to the fact that Nivola is a great actor. However, the scenes of dialogue between Mirren and her daughter are perhaps the most tedious parts of the film, due mainly to the fact that Sagemiller is not a good actress, and unfortunately we get to see more of the scenes between Mirren and her daughter, then scenes with Mirren and her son. The most intriguing of Mirren's interactions of the film, is that of her and the F.B.I. agent in charge of getting back her husband, played by Matt Craven in one of his very best roles. In a whole, The Clearing is a film about interactions rather than actions.
The most rewarding element of Pierre Jan Brugge's The Clearing, is perhaps the acting. All three leads are pitch perfect in their roles, with talent to spare. Robert Redford gives us another great performance that was long awaited. Willem Dafoe is priceless and the meticulous and spooky kidnapper. I think Dafoe's role is the most interesting out of the bunch, but maybe unintentionally. In the hostage scenes with Dafoe and Redford, you're supposed to pay close attention to Redford's stories, but Dafoe's reactions to the stories turn out to be way more interesting. I think the best performance in The Clearing (which may be honored with an Oscar or at least Golden Globe nomination) is Helen Mirren as the intensely worried housewife of Robert Redford. She reels you into to feeling her emotions about this horrible and stressful situation. It takes real talent for an actress to do it, but it takes even more talent for an actress to do this without opening her mouth. That is what Helen Mirren achieves in this film, among many others she's been featured in over the years.
The ending of The Clearing is very disappointing. Although, it's realistic and not hokey, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. In the last fifteen minutes of the movie they lead you down the garden path into believing everything will be made clear at the end, and don't go through with it. The ending of the film will sit with you better a day after you've seen the picture then it will two seconds after the credits start rolling. You'll realize this was a smart unexpected way to end it, and that it was okay to not add everything up, because in real life not everything always adds up. I think the people who would be most disappointed in The Clearing, are those who watch a lot of television during the week. The reason being is that on television everything is neatly put together in a package and there are no loose ends in the final moments, but on film that doesn't always happen. I think film scholars would appreciate The Clearing substantially more than then the general public.
In closing, this is a good, not great, but good film from first time filmmaker Pierre Jan Brugee. Brugee does a sensational job for his first picture, and presents himself like he's been doing film-making all his life. He is a very bold filmmaker, with a lot of confidence that I'd like to see more of in the not-to-distant future. (review written 8/16/04) Grade: B (screened at AMC Deer Valley 30, Phoenix, Arizona)
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?
After all of the negative reviews I read about this movie, it was with reluctance and groaning that I agreed to watch it when my wife picked it out. I fully expected a bomb. What a pleasant surprise. "The Clearing" is, as many have pointed out, a slower moving film. Just because there is no action does not mean a film is bad. "The Clearing" is a drama with two story lines moving along in parallel. There is interesting dialogue building up to an uncertain climax. "The Clearing" held my interest and developed suspense. With an only 90 minute running time, I kept wondering how they were going to wrap everything up. And that is the strength of this movie. It is not formulaic. You will not guess the ending. All of the loose ends in both plot and character development come to a conclusion in the final minutes. All in all, much better than expected and well worth renting. 7/10
"The Clearing" is a taut, suspenseful kidnapping story.
But the tension is primarily ratcheted up not by action, but what we learn what stuff each of the characters is made of, particularly as to how superbly Helen Mirren and Willem Dafoe surround Robert Redford.
Ironically, Mirren's husband Taylor Hackford directed a more muddled take on a very similar story line in "Proof of Life," which couldn't decide if it was an action movie or a drama. Here first-time writer Justin Haythe and director Pieter Jan Brugge are more focused, even while playing a few tricks on the viewer with time-shifting "Rashomon" rewinds, though there are a couple of questionable holes in the story as it takes surprising directions.
It's a relief to finally see Redford in a role fitting his age, with an age-appropriate spouse and adult children, including Alessandro Nivola not playing his usual sensual snake. It's nice to see Mirren get to play an attractive, rich matron who can carry off nice clothes and hair styles as she usually hides herself in her roles.
My wife and I saw this movie at the Sundance Film festival and were very entertained with it. A wealthy businessman played by Robert Redford is kidnapped by a loser played by Willem Defoe. This is a very low key movie that lets the suspense build slowly until the climax. The characters are realistic and the plot is believable. Screen play has some twists which were not overdone. Robert Redford and Willem Defoe were both at their best. Wife's part played by Helen Mirren was one of the most difficult emotionally and she showed an outstanding performance. Overall the cast's acting was very good. If you like sophisticated thrillers you shouldn't miss this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie stars one of my all-time favorite actresses, Helen Mirren, and one of my all-time favorite hunks, Robert Redford. Mirren never disappoints, and in this film, she gives a gentle, controlled performance of a woman who looks back on her marriage as she is faced with losing her husband. As for Redford, well, his hunk days are long over. Over the years that show so very clearly on his face, he has become a much more relaxed actor. Here he gives a striking performance of a man who stares death in the face as contemplates his life. Both Redford and Mirren are ably assisted by Willem Dafoe as a kidnapper, a man who lives in a house full of "disappointed people." This isn't a happy film, yet it doesn't leave one in despair because two people, though separated, are able to find each other again. The pace is on the slow side - rather, the pace isn't pushed. But it kept me interested and invested in all of the characters, even the FBI man, throughout. The ending is particularly poignant.
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 *****
I wanted to like this film, and certainly there is room for a
psychological character-driven movie which doesn't go for the cheap
thrills. Yet, for the enjoyment of a movie, one requires a believable
plot, some pacing and editing, and a feeling of involvement. In The
Clearing, what starts out as an intriguing mystery, with a kidnapping
and unknown motives, turns into a slow draggy pointless exercise.
Nothing much really happens, and the so-called character-driven angles
(as expressed by the director in his commentary) really don't add up to
Fine actors are wasted here. Robert Redford does his best trying to engage and outwit Willem Dafoe. Dafoe brings a bit of nuance to his character, insofar as one can feel somewhat sympathetic towards him. It's unfortunate that Dafoe has been typecast as a villain, he's gone into the Christopher Walken Hall of Fame of Typecasting.
Wendy Crewson is usually good but her character's entry into the movie was brief and contrived, and I was wondering why they even bothered to introduce her character. By far the biggest waste of talent was Helen Mirren. In the director's commentary, all I heard was how fabulous a talent she is. I agree, she's a great actress. Then why was she not used properly? Only towards the climax of this movie does she get to show herself, but by then the viewer has quit caring.
Too bad, I liked parts of this movie, but as another reviewer wrote, once you're halfway in you know the film is not going to get much better.
After reading many good things about it ,i finally watched "the
clearing".With a cast of great actors like Redford and Dafoe ,one
would,at least, expect a decent film.After the closing credits had
rolled i was still shocked by how bad and incoherent this movie
Is it supposed to be an "art" film??I don't think so cause it is too melodramatic for that.The bad thing is that the drama seems way too forced and unrealistic.
The truth is that the script makes absolutely no sense.First of all it never really explains the motive behind the actions of any of the characters,it just overblows their so called "personal issues".What's so bad about Redford's character's life that he has to "clear it"??The fact that he cheats,occasionally,his wife??The guy is a millionaire who has had a good life,has a great son and a great daughter,a wife that loves him(and a girlfriend that also seems to be way above the generic mistress type of woman)o and a new-born grandson.The only problem seems to be that he...has been working hard for all his life to be a successful person.So what??It seems that his hard work has really paid off and there's actually no real problems with his life.
Then we come to Dafoe's character:here's someone who was a manager for one of Redford's companies and was fired.Why is this guy unemployed for ...eight years???It seems that he must have some kind of good education to have a job like the one he had in the first place and seems to have been a man with solid ideas about his work(as evident by his flashback of a conversation that he had with Redford when he was working for him).Why couldn't a man like that get a decent job and have a decent life??Cause he was ,once,fired??Totally unrealistic.
The film really tries to portray these men as "tortured souls" or something and that comes off as really cheesy.In fact i would say that if the creators of this film were trying to say something about the American dream then they failed miserably.
As for the actual events that take place during the movie ,they also make no sense at all.In fact the last 20 minutes of the film come off as an insult to the viewer's intelligence,because there's not one thing that takes place that actually makes any sense.Redford seems to have about a 1000 chances to escape ,yet he doesn't.At one moment he is ready to escape and yet he misses his chance cause he feels sorry for his kidnapper and doesn't want to hurt him!!!Then Dafoe picks up his gun from the water and the mud,which should be useless(if you fire a shot with a gun after the gun has been in the water and mud it will possibly blow up in your face)and the gun is in perfect condition!!! The way an unemployed ,useless(as portrayed in this film) and mentally unstable character,manages to outsmart the entire FBI with such ease brings the narrative of this film to "twilight zone" levels.The cheesy ending(with Redford's wife illusion) comes to finish the viewer off.
This film pretends to be something,it's not(i.e a quality,sophisticated psychological thriller).Unfortunately it fails so hard,that it becomes a disaster and that's the word that describes this film best:A DISASTER.
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