Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I try to write a review of every film I see and right about now I’m running at about 80 percent. So out of every ten movies I see I end up reviewing about eight of them, which on the outset seems pretty good but considering I’ve probably seen close to a thousand movies in the past two plus years that means that two hundred movies have gone review-less. The movies that are more likely to get the shaft tend to be movies of high reaching quality like ‘The Clearing’ as they tend to more difficult to review. This past weekend I decided to put my glorious DTV collection to the side and watch only serious, deep thinking movies, most with big name quality actors and you can’t get a much bigger name than Robert Redford or of much higher quality than Helen Mirren. Well, I’ll never do that again because trying to review one serious film is hard enough but trying to review ten in a row is damn near impossible. I can knock down ten Seagal – Snipes – Dolph masterpieces in quick fashion but these serious films take a lot out of a dude mentally, particularly if they’re mediocre, and despite the presence of certified legends Redford and Mirren, and the inclusion of Willem Dafoe as the heavy, ‘The Clearing’ was maybe just a baby step above mediocre.

Redford is millionaire businessman Wayne Hayes who is enjoying morning tea out by the pool with his lovely and loyal wife of umpteen years Eileen (Mirren). They chime about some old time married small talk and Wayne kisses his wife and proceeds to go about his day. As he pulls out of the driveway he is stopped by one Arnold Mack (Dafoe) who gives him a package, then pulls out a gun and forces Wayne to drive to a location. The day passes for Eileen as Wayne misses a dinner date with friends and doesn’t make it home that night either, prompting Eileen to call the police and report Wayne missing.

The story then plays out in a parallel uneven time line as we accompany Wayne and his kidnapper heading deeper and deeper into the wooded areas of wherever the hell this thing takes place, Arnold assuring Wayne that he will be okay and that he’s only holding up his half of the bargain and delivering him to the people who are demanding the ransom. Eileen sits at home with her adult children Tim (Alessandro Nivola) and Jill (Melissa Sagemiller) who work with the FBI agents on the case (Matt Craven and Gwen McGee) trying to find out what, if any enemies Wayne had, and sit by the phone and wait for the demands.

Whilst we wait for this play out we are treated to Wayne’s family reminiscing about him and is life, we learn of Wayne’s adulterous affair with a co-worker – though I suppose ‘adulterous affair’ is redundant. We also are privy to hear of Eileen’s deep love and affection for her fine husband while Wayne and Arnold discuss their widely disparate lives, how they feel about their respective families, plans and loves and what has led Arnold Mack to take these incredibly drastic measures to try to get his life back on track.

Long time industry veteran Pieter Jan Brugge sits behind the directors chair for the first time for this film and has a crafted a movie that is very deliberate and pedestrian in its pace. Not that I can ever be too hard on the man since he WAS the executive producer of ‘Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogoaloo’ so he’ll always be a champion in my book. But from my vantage point, despite the great performances by the leads, ‘The Clearing’ could have borrowed some energy from ‘Electric Boogaloo’ to infuse his film with a little more life. I can see where a director blessed with the talents of Helen Mirren, Robert Redford and Willem Dafoe would have the initial response of just stepping aside and let these masters do what they do, and for the most part it does work, but there are more than a few moments were ‘The Clearing’ simply glided along seemingly without a pulse.

The strength of the film does lie squarely in the hands of it’s legendary stars, with naturally Helen Mirren leading the way as she has been amazing me with her other worldly talents since I was little boy watching her in ‘Excalibur’, and she infuses the character of Eileen Hayes with a subtle mixture of sadness, strength, and the pathetic whinings of a hurt schoolgirl and then courage. It would be difficult to watch Mirren in just about anything, and that includes ‘Shadow Boxers’ (which I liked) and not feel blessed to see her work. I know I’m blowing her pretty hard over here but the woman is gifted.

Redford and Dafoe a quite good too, and though there relationship during the kidnapping sequences had great dialog, it was still a little odd and more times than not, awkward. It seemed that Redford’s character had more than a few opportunities to escape, and for a kidnapper Dafoe’s character had to be one of the worst ever, and then the conclusion to their relationship didn’t really make a lot of sense to me either as I guess I really didn’t ‘get’ what Dafoe’s character was ultimately all about.

‘The Clearing’ was a mixed bag of a film with big time movie stars delivering big time performances wrapped around a narrative that simply just moved too slow for its own good, combined with the somewhat dark and morose subject matter, this probably limited the appeal of this film to a larger audience when it was initially released. Worth seeing, but just make sure you have a Red Bull nearby before slipping it in the DVD player.

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