Retro Review: The Clearing

Whenever you have a Hollywood legend like Robert Redford return to acting after a three year hiatus you really should be curious to see what project he has found. With the loss of the irreplaceable Marlon Brando last week, we really need to stand up and take notice when a screen legend picks up a new starring role.

“The Clearing” is a mature kidnap caper which sees Wayne Hayes (Redford) being kidnapped from his loyal wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren) and taken into the woods. His kidnapper, Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe) seems to have a connection to Wayne’s corporate past but promises that all will be revealed at the end of their journey. Meanwhile Eileen has to deal with FBI Agent Ray Fuller (Matt Craven) and her shocked children, played by Alessandro Nivola and Melissa Sagemiller.

What is the story behind the kidnapping? Who is Arnold Mack? And furthermore how will it turn out?

“The Clearing” offers brilliant performances from Redford, Mirren and Dafoe but lacks the punch or intrigue associated with great caper films.

The film seems to be leading to an eventual confrontation, there are hints that not everything is rosy in the family’s life and the family even has some unspoken secrets. There is so much potential here but it never really explodes like it should.

The conversations between Dafoe and Redford are interesting and uncover little details here and there. We really get into their journey. But I wanted so much more from Dafoe and especially Redford.

The glue that holds the viewer to this film is the performance of Helen Mirren. With a blank look or a solitary mannerism you can see everything going on inside this woman. It is such a subtle performance but also an utterly brilliant and devastating one. She needs more roles like this.

I did find myself enjoying the supporting performances from Alessandro Nivola and Matt Craven. Both of these actors seem to bring an unseen depth to their possibly throwaway performances. Compare and contrast them with the likes of perfect throwaway performances from Melissa Sagemiller and Wendy Crewson and see what I mean.

Crewson is a credible actress and her character is a key ingredient but all we get is a mess in her scene with Mirren. There should have been more awkwardness, venom and tenacity in that scene but it is so unforgettable much like a lot of this film.

“The Clearing” should have kept the power of the performances but had some of the intrigue and twists of fellow kidnap dramas like 1996’s “Ransom” or 2002’s “Trapped”, which had oodles of twists but poor performances and structure.

I wanted so much from this film but these fine three actors are wasted and the film needed so much more.

(2.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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