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July 2004

By Wilson Morales

The Clearing

Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Director: Pieter Jan Brugge
Producers: Pieter Jan Brugge, Jonah Smith, & Palmer West
Screenwriter: Justin Haythe
Cinematographer: Denis Lenoir
Composer: Craig Armstrong
Cast: Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe, Allesandro Nivola, Matt Craven, Melissa Sagemiller, & Wendy Crewson



What happens when you have a cast filled with an Oscar winner and Oscar nominees and put them together in a compelling thriller from a tired genre. You might think that the cast may be able to pull it off and captivate you, but when the script is poorly written, you get a disappointing film to say the least. Such is the case with "The Clearing". Besides the fact the film is well acted, there's not enough compelling moments for it to be suspenseful or satisfying.

Robert Redford plays Wayne Hayes, a wealthy businessman, who's kissed his wife Eileen before going off to work. She reminds him to be home early for they are guests over for dinner. Mack (Dafoe) is an unemployed worker waiting outside Wayne's residence when he kidnaps him. After Wayne doesn't come home for dinner and time has gone by, Eileen gets the ransom call. Bringing in the cops as well as her children (Nivola, Sagemiller), Eileen has to go over Wayne's life to figure things out. Meanwhile, taking him to a forest, Mack and Wayne are playing this cat and mouse talk game as to who's to blame for Mack's troubles. Wayne tries to use his skills as a salesman to ease the high tension. At some point, Eileen wonders how happy was Wayne when she discovers he had an affair with a former employee. With her children at her side, Eileen tries to be strong as Wayne's situation is getting grimmer as the hours go by.

The problem with this film is that everything is playing straightforward without any twists. If there's any good merit to this film, it's Helen Mirren. She's the rock that carries the film to any respectability. It's her character that is well developed and brings emotion. There isn't enough of Dafoe's character to determine if any compassion should be felt for him. Dafoe and Redford are good talkers, but their chemistry as the kidnapper and victim doesn't sell. Earlier this month, there was another kidnapping film, "Man on Fire", in which the life of a man was determined. The story is somewhat similar here but the difference is that "Man of Fire" was entertaining and very moving, and this film isn't.