THE CLEARING
An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


        ďThe Clearing.Ē  Slow on action, big on character development with a fine cast to carry the concept.  With actors like Helen Mirren at work, itís not necessary to fill the air with words; itís reward enough just to watch her think.  With the exception of a serious surprise, this is the story of a kidnapping that depends entirely on the acting of the principals. 

       Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford), an extremely successful local businessman, is abducted at gunpoint in the mouth of his driveway by Arnold Mack, a resentful former employee eaten by rage at the inequity of his failure vs. Wayne ís success.   Wayne lives the very good life with his wife Eileen (Helen Mirren) in a big stone house by a lovely pool.  This is a man who loves his work, his wife, his adult children, and his mistress. 

       The movie is rooted in a chilling civility.  A compassionate FBI agent (Matt Craven) man moves into Eileenís house for the duration; her son and daughter return, and everyone lives together in stoic acceptance.  The agent respects Marionís behavior under stress; her daughter supports her; her son can bury his nerves for only so long,.     

       The creepy kidnapper is multifaceted, as befits any Willem DaFoe character.  Unexpectedly caring about his captive Ė new sneakers for navigating the rocky forest, a break now and then from the handcuffs -   Arnold announces that he is Part I of a team effort to extort 10 million dollars from Wayne ís family.  And all the while he talks about the lousy deal life has given him.   

       Explaining Wayne ís need for his mistress, Eileen remarks with the wisdom of her age, ďIt gets worse as they get older; they feel themselves being forgotten.  I love him; she admires him.Ē  Eileen is aware of the invisibility of age; Arnold is furious at the invisibility of failure. 

      We watch Robert Redford turn Wayne from cautious listener, and keen observer to an angry man determined to save himself from the captor he now knows is a lazy, irredeemable loser.  Listening to him carefully, he finally sees Arnold not as a victim of societyís injustice, but simply as a victim of his own whining.   Redford ís Wayne is now newly driven by the need to be with his wife and family, and he calls on the strength and character that has fueled his past achievements.

       Helen Mirren, as she so often does, creates an entirely new character.  The American accent she uses for Eileen is no less than perfect, and she conveys love for her husband with subtlety even though it is now scarred.  Willem DaFoe is largely responsible for the Hitchcockian suspense of the story.  This is an actor whose mind canít be read, who never telegraphs his actions, so we are caught in the uncertainty generated by an unstable human being.  Slow and professional, this movie could have been made decades ago, and thatís a compliment. 


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