Roughly based on a true story, The Clearing takes a subtle and in-depth view of the characters involved in the kidnapping of a company executive. Featuring an all-star cast and a beautiful presentation from first-time Dutch director Pieter Jan Brugge, The Clearing is an underrated and overlooked film that never received the promotion it deserved.
The movie was released in July 2004, but despite starring Robert Redford, Willem Dafoe and Helen Mirren, Fox Searchlight failed to promote it. It's a real shame, because this is easily one of the better films of the year.
Redford and Mirren star as Wayne and Eileen Hayes, a rich and successful couple who nonetheless are dealing with troubles at home. One night, Wayne never returns home - nor is there any indication he ever made it to work that morning. It soon becomes clear he was kidnapped. The movie flashes to Wayne (out of chronological order) as he is leaving the house that morning. A man named Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe) approaches the car, kidnaps Wayne and they begin their journey through the woods...
Once again, this movie is proof simplicity works. The Clearing is moving, powerful, complicated and suspenseful, yet in reality it is very simple - almost too simple to fathom. Half of the movie looks at Eileen and her children as they come to grips with what is happening. Family secrets are exposed and she begins to realize just how much she loved her husband, even if there were problems in their relationship. The other half is devoted to the exchanges between Wayne and Arnold as they make their way through the woods. They talk about their wives and family, but as time goes on things become more and more intense, more and more desperate.
The Clearing is definitely a character-based film and perhaps that is why Fox thought it couldn't reach broader audiences, but it is still difficult to understand why they targeted such a small market. Had this movie been exposed to more people and released later in the year, all of the actors involved could be considered for Oscar nominations. Redford is at his best here, quietly powerful. Dafoe, who always seems to be underrated, is equally intense and eerily creepy. Mirren perhaps has the most difficult role as she has to portray her emotions to the camera by herself.
Aside from the acting, the rest of the movie is excellent as well. Jan Brugge does a terrific job of engrossing the audience within the first few minutes. Though the ending isn't too difficult to guess, Jan Brugge allows the audience to see only as much as the characters see. Realization slowly sets in over the course of the film, but it isn't until the last few minutes we really grasp the severity of the issue. The movie is as simple as can be, yet Jan Brugge and his cast of actors have taken it to an entirely new level.
Unfortunately, for some, the movie will be slow and tedious. The Clearing is dialogue-based and despite the terrific performances, some audiences can't handle a film like this, even if it is only 90 minutes long. It isn't a Hollywood-esque film, either, so those looking for something standard should be advised to look elsewhere.
The Clearing, graced with good directing and stellar performances from its three leads, is one of the better films of 2004.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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