(2004)3Karl WilliamsThe directorial debut of producer Pieter Jan Brugge, this drama disguised as a thriller is more interested in the psychological journey undertaken by its three principal characters than it is in the trappings of its genre. For much of the film, that creative choice works. There are plenty of reasons, early on, to become engrossed; the fact that the seemingly placid, happy marriage of Wayne (Robert Redford) and Eileen (Helen Mirren) is troubled enough that at first, she is not certain if he has been kidnapped or has abandoned her, is an involving development that touches on notions of karmic payback (if he had been faithful, Wayne would have been considered a kidnapping victim sooner) and reveals the unspoken inner conflict Eileen is suffering (terrified her husband is being hurt, but angry he has abandoned her again). Equally, Wayne's response to his predicament is to deal with it as a business problem to be solved through negotiation and a little bullying -- exactly the wrong stance to adopt toward his self-pitying captor, Arnold (Willem Dafoe, typically, reliably creepy even in the role of a mundane, blue-collar drone). These are fascinating characters, superbly played with nuanced performances, as hypnotic as the rippling waves of a placid pond after a heavy stone is tossed into its center. It's frustrating, then, that the writer/director doesn't sustain his momentum for the entire film. Once the characters' inner lives have been bared, The Clearing (2004) should wrap it up fast, but it stumbles on, and by the time of the "twist" ending (one that is none too difficult to see coming), Brugge has run out of steam -- just when the conventions of the thriller might have rescued his story, if not his protagonists.
Dutch film producer Pieter Jan Brugge makes his directorial debut with the dramatic thriller The Clearing. Affluent executive Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) and his lovely wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren), live in a beautiful home in Pittsburg. One day, Wayne is kidnapped by disgruntled employee Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe). He is then held for ransom in a forest. Meanwhile, Eileen is forced to reckon with the FBI agents as they negotiate with the kidnapper. Alessandro Nivola and Melissa Sagemiller star as the two grown Hayes children. Matt Craven plays FBI Agent Ray Fuller. The Clearing premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004.