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THE CLEARING

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe, Alessandro Nivola, Matt Craven, Melissa Sagemiller
Director: Pieter Jan Brugge
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 94 Minutes
Release Date: November 9, 2004

"You've never deceived your wife?"

"There are levels of deception. This is a whopper."

Film ***

The Clearing has the appearance of a traditional kidnapping thriller, but it's actually one of the more effective character studies to come around in quite sometime. It's the study of two men from two very different backgrounds who are put in a crucial situation due to one's actions. The film also serves as a study of the differences that lay within the higher class and lower class levels of life.

Robert Redford plays Wayne Hayes, a highly successful company executive who lives quite the lavish lifestyle that comes with the profession. He lives in an elegant mansion in the countryside, and is married to longtime supporter, Eileen (Helen Mirren). Wayne is an accomplished man, but a flawed one nonetheless, and his marriage has managed to survive even the most trying of times.

On what starts out like any ordinary day, Wayne is met at gunpoint by a man named Arnold (Willem Dafoe), at the end of his driveway. Wayne is then led by his kidnapper to a remote area somewhere in the woods. Arnold's intention is to keep Wayne at gunpoint until he is given a demanded ransom, which will be handled by the wife.

Why has Arnold resorted to kidnapping? The reason is simply pure jealousy of a man who has everything the common person would want in life; success, a loving wife, kids and endless wealth. Arnold's life is anything but happy. Living with his wife and her father in a row house somewhere in the city, Arnold is the first to classify himself as a failure in society, and thinks that a rich man's money would cure him of the constant depression he experiences.

Meanwhile, Eileen is struggling to cooperate with the FBI, who is handling the attempt to get back her husband. Wayne's two grown kids, Jill (Melissa Sagemiller) and Tim (Alessandro Nivola) are by their mother's side until a resolution presents itself. One of the things Wayne regrets is the fact that he is just now getting to know his son and daughter.

During the course of the kidnapping, the FBI come across certain elements in Wayne's personal life, including an affair he had with a mistress (Wendy Crewson), which becomes news to Jill and Tim who never knew of it, because Eileen didn't want them to know since she thought the issue would never come around again.

Even though the overall plot scenario of this movie has been done before, this film does weave a conclusion that will really catch you by surprise. It's certainly not the kind of outcome I expected to occur. I also found the film's closing moments to be tremendously effective. When one of the character's fate is about to be sealed as a result of his actions, the film takes a most unconventional approach at a conclusion, which is, if anything, totally believable.

The prime success of The Clearing is the top notch work of Redford and Dafoe, who play off one another so brilliantly. Redford, who at 67 is finally starting to show signs of aging, slips into the role of Wayne with downright authenticity. We buy him in the role right from scene one. As for Dafoe, who were so used to seeing in over the top form, as in Spider-Man, his subtle performance here is something to be truly appreciated. He makes Arnold into someone who is a threat, but at the same time becomes one to sympathize with.

This is the directorial debut from veteran producer Pieter Jan Brugge. One thing's for sure, Brugge's producing track record (Heat, The Insider, Bulworth) speaks for itself. Brugge has chosen quite a suiting piece as his first directing gig, and I feel we will be seeing more from him in the future.

The Clearing is an honest and observant character study that maintains a strong effective feeling right up to the finish.

Video **1/2

Fox's anamorphic handling left me scratching my head, this time around. While there are moments in this presentation that should project this into a better average, I seem to have noticed a number of distracting instances. Since the movie is relatively short, and the disc isn't packed with a lot of features, the free space should've allowed for a better presentation. I happen to notice, especially in some nighttime sequences, a great hint of grain and softness in the picture. It's a crucial flaw, but thankfully, the rest of the presentation was that of exceptional picture quality.

Audio ***

The Clearing does garner a striking 5.1 channel performance, although the film itself is a dialogue driven film, no more and no less. Dialogue delivery is thoroughly well heard, clean and clear as can be. Several music cues, in addition, are extremely well handled, making for a most effective listen.

Features **

Some basic feats to go around, including a commentary track with director Pieter Jan Brugge, writer Justin Haythe and editor Kevin Tent, deleted scenes with optional commentary, the complete screenplay, and a trailer.

Summary:

With two seasoned acting pros at the top of their game, and an all around sense of realism, The Clearing is easily one of the more effective character driven films I've seen in recent memory. It goes beyond the realm of the typical kidnapping plot and into the well regarded territory of an observant character study.

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