Having premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival as a
THE CLEARING now arrives in theaters. The timing,
 however,  may be less than apt since the movie centers on a kidnapping
 and with the almost daily events of abductions in Iraq, there may be
 some doubt as to whether anyone would be willing to watch such a film.
 It would be a shame, though, if audiences chose to ignore this tasteful
 drama, because it features three strong performances, especially a
 singularly brilliant turn by one of the best actresses working today --
 Helen Mirren.

         Director Pieter Jan Brugge was inspired partly by real-life events
 that occurred in his native The Netherlands. He took his idea to novelist
 Justin Haythe and the pair worked out a story which Haythe then turned
 into the screenplay. The story is rather simple, but ultimately very complex.
 Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) and his wife Eileen (Helen Mirren) appear
 to have it all until one day their world is shattered when Wayne is taken
 hostage by former co-worker Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe). It's only after
 Wayne's disappearance that the cracks in their lives are gradually revealed.

         Brugge takes an interesting approach to the material and allows it
 to unfold in a nonlinear manner, which gives the movie a richer, resonant
 tone. This allows certain scenes to come across with more poignancy.
 In short, we watch as Eileen moves from the realization that something
 has happened to her husband through the investigation by the FBI through
 its ultimate denouement. Intercut with that are scenes of the actual
 kidnapping and its immediate aftermath.

         The title, of course, holds multiple meanings. There's the literal
 clearing in the woods where Arnold is taking Wayne. On a more
 psychological level, both Wayne and Eileen come to view their lives in
 a more crystallized manner.

         Although the film is intended as a psychological thriller, it functions
 best as a character study of three people, the troubled kidnapper (Dafoe),
 the victim (Redford) and the victim's wife (Mirren). Each delivers a strong,
 multi-layered performance. Dafoe has played villains before but here he
 makes one understand the desperation in his act. While he is not entirely
 sympathetic, one can look at him and comprehend the reasons for his
 actions. Redford hasn't been this loose on screen since his heyday in the
 early 1970s. Here he's playing a more or less ordinary man, one with
 multiple flaws and he inhabits the character so readily, it makes one again
 appreciate his craft and skills as an actor. Mirren, though, anchors the film.
 Her Eileen attempts to go through the motions of life, in part to keep up
 a brave front for her children (played by Alessandro Nivola and Melissa
 Sagemiller), but as she discovered some unpleasant truths about her
 husband, in part because of the FBI investigation, she has to face the
 fact that perhaps she didn't know her husband as well as she thought.
 There's a devastating scene wherein she visits his mistress (Wendy
 Crewson) that is an exercise in sublime acting. Both women convey so
 much both in what is said and what is left unsaid.

THE CLEARING has its flaws, it does manage to entertain
 and enlighten, and it showcases three superb actors offering some of the
 best work of their respective careers.

                 Rating:                       B-
                 MPAA Rating:               R for brief strong language
                 Running time:              91 mins.

                               Viewed at Magno Review One

© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.