July 12, 2004

Movie Review: The Clearing.

When I first saw a trailer for The Clearing, a few months back, I thought it looked interesting, but the story seemed very bland. A story about a kidnapping? Been there, done that. But I had a few second thoughts after realizing that the cast had Robert Redford, Willem Dafoe, and Helen Mirren. That is quite a load of talent right there. Then I saw a review for it a couple of weeks ago on Ebert & Roeper, and they both liked it. Of course, it opened here a week later than everywhere else, and at only one theater. Obviously, this theater isn't the most convenient for me. I did find a time that was good enough for me to go to after work, and took my chances today.

The first thing that struck me about the film was Willem Dafoe as Arnold. He takes control of every scene and makes them his own, without overshadowing Redford, with whom he shares most of his screen time. The film is heavy on dialogue, and being such, the movie rests securely in the stars ability to keep us interested. That they do, even with such a common story as a kidnapping.

Let's take a couple of steps back now. The film follows Robert Redford as Wayne Hayes, a car rental executive, who is kidnapped by Dafoe's Arnold Mack, a disgruntled, yet pleasant, former employee. Meanwhile, Helen Mirren is Eileen Hayes, who must deal with the kidnapping of her husband along with her children and the FBI. A very straightforward story, that is supported by strong acting from the leads, similar to Secret Window, earlier this year. What struck me about the film was the structure. We get Wayne and Arnold's story and we get Eileen and family's story, but they aren't told at the same rate. I liked this, not sure why because it does make it easy to predict a few things, but it still works. Wayne and Arnold's story is told over the course of a day, while the other side is told over, what appears to be, a few weeks.

Like I mentioned earlier, this film is buoyed by it's performances, in particular Willem Dafoe and Helen Mirren. Mirren portrays Eileen as such a strong woman who has this great burden on her. The emotion she can display just through her face, a woman slipping into depression over the loss of her husband, not knowing what will happen, yet finding the strength to carry on despite those around her. Simply an amazing performance. Dafoe, on the other hand, gives us this sad sack, trying to get his life back the only way he can think of. Not a terribly bright guy, not exactly evil, but you want to believe him in his conversations with Wayne, but there is something missing.

There could have been more character depth here, we meet the Hayes children, played by Alessandro Nivola and Melissa Sagemiller. But we don't really learn anything about them, there are hints about a happy childhood, and an absentee father, but neither is explored. There is talk of an affair, the other woman is introduced but again, not much impact on anything. The FBI seems to show up out of nowhere. The ending, while interesting left a lot to be desired.

Bottom line is, this is an interesting, if flawed film. It is worth seeing for the fine performances and not so much the story. It is not bad for first time director Pieter Jan Brugge, who has been a producer on some excellent movies, including The Insider, Bulworth, and Heat. Anyway, see this for the acting, it is worth your time.


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