Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) is enjoying the autumn of his life after corporate success, a self made man with apparently everything, including a loyal wife in Eileen (Helen Mirren) and two grown up children (Alessandro Nivola, Melissa Sagemiller). When he's kidnapped outside his Pittsburgh mansion by a nondescript Arnold (Willem Dafoe), his life is unravelled in front of him - and in front of his wife, as FBI Agent Fuller (Matt Craven) probes for clues. Like most people, Wayne has secrets, even from his wife.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This dense, intense and engaging film has everything going for it - except a satisfying resolution. Like a short story that's made up by a writer on the fly, with wonderful images, great performances, evolving drama and constant tension, The Clearing is a good cinematic idea looking for completion.
The ever-watchable Robert Redford and the ever-complex Helen Mirren, together with the ever-edgy Willem Dafoe ensure that we are glued to the screen throughout the film, rampant with questions. The technical accomplishments of the crew are wonderful: camera, editing and music are singing the same tune as the direction. As the story progresses, our anticipation for a payoff is cranked up notch by notch, and kept at fever pitch by the revelations unfurl in front of Wayne's family.
He had a mistress. But there's more. He had a business that challenged the major players. But there's more. He had a wonderful marriage, but.... Yes, there's more.
The bulk of the film is a kind of road movie as Arnold takes Wayne through a mountainous forest on the way to a cabin, where he is to hand Wayne over to his bosses. This is the strategy the screenplay milks for all it's worth - but the problem is it isn't worth very much. The exchange of personal information between kidnapper and victim is fascinating - but only if we come to some understanding about either, or preferably both men.
Plot holes also distract us and weaken the film: there seem to be two time-line realities in the film, and we are held in suspense waiting for an explanation. When there isn't one, we can only conclude the elements have been thrown together without cohesion.
Fans of the three stars - Redford, Mirren and Dafoe - will drool at the high value screen time they are given, the atmospheric close ups, and the gyrating emotions captured on camera. Redford is dry, businesslike yet vulnerable; Mirren is appealingly emotive and Dafoe is multi-dimensional with hidden demons. But the story doesn't really add up, and the film loses steam in the end, as a result.
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CLEARING, THE (M)
CAST: Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe, Alessandro Nivola, Matt Craven, Melissa Sagemiller, Wendy Crewson, Larry Pine, Diana Scarwid, Elizabeth Ruscio
PRODUCER: Palmer West, Jonah Smith, Pieter Jan Brugge
DIRECTOR: Pieter Jan Brugge
SCRIPT: Justin Haythe
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Denis Lenoir ASC, AFC
EDITOR: Kevin Tent ACE
MUSIC: Craig Armstrong
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Gorak
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Searchlight
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 25, 2004