Having premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival as a
'work-in-progress,' 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 --
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.
While 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.
MPAA Rating: R for brief strong language
Running time: 91 mins.
Viewed at Magno Review One
© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.