The Clearing

The Clearing

2004, R, 91 min. Directed by Pieter Jan Brugge. Starring Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe, Alessandro Nivola, Matt Craven, Melissa Sagemiller.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 9, 2004

From both its minimalist ad campaign and its maximalist cast, you would be forgiven for thinking that this debut directorial feature from the producer of such nerve-wrackers as The Insider, Heat, and The Vanishing would be a model of white-knuckled suspense, full of shocking revelations and flesh-exfoliating awfulness. No such luck. Brugge’s film – despite featuring three of the finest actors ever to grace the screen – is an arty snore: calm, cool, collected, and deadly dull, as though it were some gorgeous Monarch with its delicately woven wings pinned back atop a cork display board by some heinously unimaginative lepidopterist. This, of course, may win it points with those members of the audience who’ve come to check up on Redford’s crow’s feet (sorry, he still looks like a million bucks) or Dafoe’s equine smirk (Whoa there, fella!), but for the rest of us who take the bait and expect even a teensy little frisson of fear, well, we’re out of luck. Sorry. Redford plays Wayne Hayes, a car-rental magnate on the verge of retirement. He spends his days shuttling between the office and the palatial estate he shares with his wife Eileen (Mirren). Everything appears as blissfully placid as the surface of the couple’s gorgeous swimming pool, until one evening Wayne fails to return from work. As it turns out, he’s been kidnapped by Arnold Mack (Dafoe in full fidget mode), an ex-employee who promptly drives Wayne into the wooded countryside and orders him on a lengthy march toward a cabin in the high Smokey Mountains where, presumably, cohorts await with a phone and ransom demands. During their stumbling walk through the woods (fittingly, it’s a beautiful day for just that, if only Wayne didn’t have a gun on him the whole time) they exchange stories. It’s revealed that Arnold has more than a touch of envy toward his captive – a dangerous flaw that could, presumably, set him off at any moment. Meanwhile back at the Hayes estate, Eileen has brought in the FBI and the couple’s two children Tim (Nivola) and Jill (Sagemiller), who offer the usual comfort while the FBI works the case into the ground. There are two individual but parallel stories here – Wayne’s and Eileen’s – and Brugge gives them both equal time, but the entire affair seems cut from the same stodgy cloth as one of those of Victorian drawing-room mysteries, updated certainly, but stodgy nonetheless. I’m certainly not asking for car chases and explosions here, but this is a suspense film that’s too "adult" for its own good, despite the fact that Redford, Dafoe, and Mirren (in particular) have rarely been more mature in their performances. The easy give-and-take between Redford and Mirren early in the film is flawlessly realistic, but even that couldn’t stem the tide of this reviewer's yawns.

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The Clearing, Pieter Jan Brugge, Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe, Alessandro Nivola, Matt Craven, Melissa Sagemiller

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