"The Clearing"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)

    Robert Redford as WAYNE HAYES
    Helen Mirren as EILEEN HAYES
    Willem Dafoe as ARNOLD MACK
    Alessandro Nivola as TIM HAYES
    Matt Craven as AGENT RAY FULLER
    Melissa Sagemiller as JILL HAYES

    Rated R
    Studio: Fox Searchlight

    Directed by: Pieter Jan Brugge
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“The Clearing” is one of those pretty solid films that sneaked into the theaters and DVDs. It wasn’t the perfect thriller, but it was pretty good and definitely worth checking out for a more cerebral, adult movie.

Robert Redford plays Wayne Hayes, a wealthy businessman who is kidnapped from his home. His wife Eileen (Helen Mirren) alerts the police and her family, and they start the dreaded waiting game for the loved ones of a kidnap victim.

“The Clearing” is separated into two different stories. One is the awful waiting that Eileen and her family has to go through as they consult with the FBI, uncovering the skeletons in Wayne’s closet in order to find clues as to why he was kidnapped. The second - and more interesting story - is the journey that Wayne takes on his kidnapping.

Willem Dafoe plays Arnold Mack, the kidnapper who leads Wayne through the woods at gunpoint. He claims that he is just delivering Wayne to some folks at a cabin, but we get the sense that there are greater secrets he is hiding. Throughout the experience, the two men try to probe each other for information. Redford does some of his best acting in years against Dafoe, who turns out to be the real star of the film.

The film is expertly written by Justin Haythe and is based on actual events that director Pieter Jan Brugge read in the newspaper in his home land of Holland. I was struck by the realism that was found in the words of the characters. There were not cheesy one-liners or overly dramatic speeches. This is not the standard Hollywood movie but it refuses to fall into the pretentiousness that can often cripple independent films.

Although things are a bit predictable in the script and the ending is a bit of a let-down, the film manages to keep moving forward without bogging down or resorting to cliche. There are some weak points, however, featuring Wayne’s extended family as they wait for a resolution to this nightmare. Helen Mirren is excellent in her role of the mother trying desperately to keep her sanity and her family together. Unfortunately, the weaker cast of Alessandro Nivola as Wayne’s son and Melissa Sagemiller as his daughter tends to slow things down.

There are a few tiny plot points that manage to be a little too corny, but they are forgivable in light of the overall power of the film.

The DVD features a well thought-out commentary track with director Pieter Jan Brugge, screenwriter Justin Haythe and editor Kevin Tent. There’s also a slate of deleted scenes with optional commentary as well. The final feature, which is a rare treat on a DVD is the full-length screenplay. For a thriller like this one that had some tinkering done in the last stages of editing, it is nice to reflect on the original intentions of the writer to see what worked - and what didn’t.

Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1). French and Spanish language tracks. Spanish subtitles. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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