The Clearing

"Very Good"

The Clearing Review


There's tension in them there trees, and hopefully some cash for Fox Searchlight in the form of counter-programming. Surrounded by a sea of summer popcorn escapist vehicles, the rock-solid kidnapping thriller The Clearing feels like a frigid and somber snowball dropped into the heart of the Arabian Desert. We're typically not trained to accept weighty emotional dramas in the dog days of July, though when one this good rolls through, let's hope it has a better survival rate than said lump of frost.

The adult-oriented character piece delves headfirst into the natural landscapes of the Southeast - primarily Georgia and North Carolina - to hide the criminal wrongdoings of kidnapper Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe) and his valuable target, Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford). While the men work their way to an undisclosed location in the woods, Clearing continues to focus on the consequent people affected by the impromptu abduction - from Wayne's wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren), and their children (Alessandro Nivola, Melissa Sagemiller) to the businessman's mistress (Wendy Crewson).

I know what you're thinking. Not another routine abduction thriller, right? But Clearing goes beyond its formula and gradually builds suspense through the missing person's case. Pieces slowly drop into place about each character, though we get the sense director Pieter Jan Brugge knows precisely when, where, and how he wants to reveal the important details. Together with editor Kevin Tent, he even devises a way to doctor the natural progression of events, keeping us in the dark about what's happening when, so we're always analyzing and consistently guessing.

For instance, we find out in a flashback that Wayne once made a lucrative deal, and we wonder if that's the reason he's paying this awful price. Arnold makes a call to check in with an accomplice at one point, but we can't determine whether he's working for a larger team or simply trying to deceive his hostage.

Clearing can be as simple as two men of strong will playing mind games in the thick of a forest, or two women coming face to face after they've shared the same man for years. The cast understands that Jan Brugge's preference is to frame two individuals in a tight shot and watch them duke it out as skeletons take turns emerging from their closets. As a result, Clearing becomes a series of smaller confrontations, each carrying an honesty and emotional resonance that bulks up the story. Redford and Dafoe play their conflict close to the vest, feeling each other out as two men tossed into such a position methodically would. Mirren is left to carry the bulk of the scenes at the home, and she's repeatedly engaging, a solid rock from which this floating craft can easily be tethered.

Clearing isn't perfect. The class warfare struggle between rich guy Hayes and poor, disgruntled Mack has been done before. The compelling performances and manipulation of the narrative keep Clearing unclear, which keeps us interested. This is one of the first movies I've seen in some time where the final 10 minutes could have easily gone in any number of directions and I would have been pleased. It all adds up to a confident debut from a pair of first-timers, director Jan Brugge and his screenwriter, Justin Haythe.

The DVD includes commentary from Brugge, Haythe, and the film's editor, six deleted scenes worth watching, and the film's entire screenplay.

Clearing... the room, so we can dance!



The Clearing

Facts and Figures

Run time: 95 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 23rd December 2004

Box Office USA: $5.6M

Box Office Worldwide: $12.5M

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Production compaines: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
Fresh: 56 Rotten: 75

IMDB: 5.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Wayne Hayes, as Eileen Hayes, as Arnold Mack, as Tim Hayes, as Agent Ray Fuller, as Jill Hayes

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