Pros: Redford, Mirren, Dafoe; suspense
Cons: editing could have been better; ending
There is nothing unusual about this 2004 thriller, Pieter Van BruggesThe Clearing, your typical story about a kidnapping for ransom by a depressed, slightly twisted man with a wife and two grown kids, who thinks she does not have to know and with the money he will sweep her away to a tropical paradise and forget her loving father and the kids. I did not know when I solemnly watched it twice that it is based on a true kidnapping case in Holland and seems to have stayed pretty faithful to how that played out. If I had I would not have been so disappointed in the lame ending.
Robert Redford, no longer gorgeous with a sexy strut, leaves for work one morning and pauses to pick up his newspaper at the bottom of his driveway. Suddenly a strange man runs to him, waving and yelling. He seems friendly and knows Redfords character, Wayne Hayes. Foolishly Wayne unrolls the window, takes a package from the guy and the guy swiftly gets in the car and pulls a gun on Wayne. In parallel storytelling fashion, we see what happens to Wayne and then to his wife Eileen, played wonderfully by Helen Mirren. While he is tramping through woods with his hands tied and a gun at his back, Eileen shops, has dinner with friends, calls the police, sleeps, spends time with her kids, and has investigators living at her beautiful mansion asking questions, investigating and advising. Wayne and his kidnapper, played slickly by Willem Dafoe, eat once, a shared ham sandwich, and are never shown sleeping. I have to suspect the time frame for the stories do not match.
Listening to the commentary on the DVDs Special Features for the six deleted scenes (originally almost two hours, edited to 91 minutes), I learn that The Clearing is supposed to be a character-driven movie, not plot-driven, and that character-building scenes had to be deleted to keep it more thrilling. Yet the focus is that Wayne and Eileen are forced to re-evaluate their marriage. He had been seeing another woman and she finds out now that he had continued to see her after having learned about it years ago. I agree there is a sensitive love story here with much anguish on both their parts because they love each other very much. This is shown in dialogue and in their silences, in the way Eileen visits the other woman and the way Wayne writes a note for the kidnapper to send to her. I wish, though, a couple of those deleted scenes had remained.
As the movie stands, we think the kidnapper is hired to bring Wayne to a cabin where other men wait. That would appear to be the reason for the title. We even spy it in the distance with the kidnapper, but then they never make it that far. I do not want to spoil it for you, but the title fails to make sense. It is great that the kidnapper keeps us guessing as to what he is going to do, looking unbalanced, resentful and yet caring when Wayne falls and hurts himself. My complaint is that the title is misleading and the character change in the kidnapper would have been more plausible with a deleted scene.
A few reviewers like myself find it slow enough as it is, which is what Brugge and writer Justin Haythe wished to avoid, but a better choice may have been to edit some other scenes of Eileen shopping and bonding with her kids and the investigator. I do love Redford, Mirren and Dafoe, all seasoned actors worth watching for the truthfulness of their expressions, and it is not that the smaller roles were greatly annoying, but in a character-driven thriller less is more.
With flashbacks fleshing out the love story and revealing what happens to Wayne, The Clearing makes the kidnapper stupid and disappoints me in the end. Mostly it is not bad, though.
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