"Family in the Wake of a Kidnapping"
What You Need To Know:
THE CLEARING places more emphasis on family drama than the actual kidnapping. Painful accounts of Wayne’s infidelities have to be shared with the FBI detectives, which leads to a difficult (and well-acted) confrontation between Eileen and Wayne’s former mistress. Still, the characters are static and learn little, making the movie dry and dull. Pieter Jan Brugge’s direction is shrewd, giving the movie some much-needed life. Also, Redford's acting brings out many different shades of his character’s personality. Regardless of THE CLEARING’s strengths, the movie progresses slowly and fails to gain any momentum. It also features brief strong language and a humanist worldview.
(H, Pa, B, Cap, LL, V, A, D, MM) Humanist worldview that shuns divinity in favor of the material world, with immorality that includes extramarital affairs and kidnapping, a light moral element that has family coming together and couple working to sustain their marriage, and successful entrepreneur cast in a mostly good light; seven obscenities (including two “f” words) and four strong profanities; muted violence has man kidnapped, held at gunpoint, pushed to the ground, struggles with kidnapper, and shot; alcohol use; nervous character smokes cigarette; and out-of-work man kidnaps and kills rich man but eventually allows himself to be caught because of guilt, and man reportedly ignored family to work and cheated on his wife.
THE CLEARING stars Robert Redford as entrepreneur Wayne Haynes, who is kidnapped. Willem Defoe is the embittered working class man who takes Redford deep into the Pennsylvania woods. Helen Mirren is Wayne’s long-suffering wife Eileen, who pulls the family together in her husband’s absence and attempts to pay the ransom. Two prongs drive the movie: family drama as Wayne’s family alternately mourns and hopes for his return, and a thriller aspect that makes the audience wonder why Defoe’s character has turned to kidnapping and what fate will meet Redford’s businessman.
THE CLEARING places more emphasis on the family drama than the actual kidnapping. Wayne’s children return to the family home once he disappears. With the FBI agents, they sort through the tangle of his personal and business lives. Painful accounts of his infidelities have to be shared with the detectives, which leads to a difficult confrontation between Eileen and Wayne’s former mistress. The scene is uncomfortable to watch – an accomplishment, in this instance – but it fails to add much weight to the movie because the characters are static. Helen Mirren’s Eileen is as resigned and ponderously unhappy before her husband is kidnapped as she is afterward. Regardless of what events shock their lives or what they learn, no one in THE CLEARING changes very much. This problem with the writing makes the movie feel dry and dull.
Even if the plot is predictable, director Pieter Jan Brugge shrewdly withholds information from his audience in a way that is neither hackneyed nor easy to predict. Even if Mirren and Defoe receive more critical commendations, the acting is most nuanced from Redford. He must constantly change strategies when trying to escape from his captor, and each change requires a new approach, a different shade of the character’s personality.
Regardless of THE CLEARING’s strengths, the movie progresses slowly and fails to gain any momentum. Nothing is learned or gained in the end, except that Willem Defoe’s character realizes that he could not commit a great act of evil and live happily. The movie is a long road for such an obvious destination. Further, the resolution that Eileen comes to is much too easy and pat. Good ingredients are here, but this dish leaves you feeling hungry.