Film-Forward Review: [THE CLEARING]

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Helen Mirren as Eileen
Photo: Lorey Sebastian

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Directed & Produced by: Pieter Jan Brugge.
Written by: Justin Hayne, based on a story by Pieter Jan Brugge and Hayne.
Director of Photography: Denis Lenoir.
Edited by: Kevin Tent.
Music by: Craig Armstrong.
Released by: Fox Searchlight.
Country of Origin: USA. 91 min. Rated: R.
With: Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe & Alessandro Nivola.

It is an enduring cliché that whenever one character stops, for no apparent reason, to stare longingly at another - as if smelling the roses - it is only a matter of time until this character’s life is in danger. Such is the case with Wayne Hayes (Redford), a self-made tycoon, living in suburb bliss - furnishings by Pottery Barn - with his wife of many decades, Eileen (Mirren). In a well-paced beginning, Wayne is kidnapped in front of his home by the kidnapper-least-likely-to-succeed, the timid working-class stiff Arnold (Dafoe). While Eileen cooperates with the FBI, acting as an intermediary between them and the kidnapper, her faith in her husband is tested when she discovers a skeleton in his closet. Meanwhile, Arnold, his gun aimed at Wayne, leads the way into the woods where their forced dialogue is more fitting for a one-act play. When Wayne says, “Tell me about yourself,” Arnold improbably does.

Willem Dafoe as a hapless sad sack is like Steve Buscemi’s lost twin brother. He’s effectively resigned to his fate. But in a departure from his cool, breezy persona, Redford’s portrayal of Wayne’s heightened life-or-death predicament reveals his limitations, coming across as tentative in his confrontations with Dafoe. While the audience is told that Wayne is a great man, we don’t see it in action. Mirren, on the other hand, is commanding. There is always something going on behind her eyes, and the film ultimately rests on her shoulders. Without her performance, it would be easy to mistake The Clearing, with its predictable story development, for a Lifetime movie of the week. Kent Turner
June 25, 2004



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