The Clearing
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Pieter Jan Brugge
scr Justin Haythe
with Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe, Alessandro Nivola, Melissa Sagemiller, Matt Craven, Wendy Crewson, Geoff McKnight, Audrey Wasilewski, Peter Gannon, Gwen McGee, Jacqi Loewy
release US 2.Jul.04, UK 3.Sep.04
04/US 1h31

Over the river and through the woods: Redford and Dafoe

mirren nivola sagemiller
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What is essentially a fairly standard kidnap drama takes on extra interest due to its superb performances and an intriguing structure that carries us through both sides of the story. Although the filmmakers only give us the information when it suits them!

Wayne and Eileen (Redford and Mirren) obviously have a loving marriage that has been through years of ups and downs, two adult children (Nivola and Sagemiller) and a private business that made them a decent fortune. Then one day a strange man (Dafoe) appears outside their Pittsburgh mansion, kidnaps Wayne and takes him deep into the forest while Eileen and her children wait anxiously with an FBI agent (Craven) to find out what they must do to get Wayne back.

We see this story from both points of view--as Wayne develops an intriguing but, naturally, strained rapport with his kidnapper, and as Eileen copes with her fears and the fact that her life might have changed forever. The performances are so strong that we believe these people and their interconnections. Redford and Mirren's scenes together are extremely well filmed and played--their bond feels so strong that it sustains the separation that follows. Dafoe provides just the right balance of carefully thought-out inventiveness with a slightly askew nuttiness. And both Nivola and Sagemiller have strong scenes all their own, as does Crewson as a woman with a secret.

As a character study this is vivid, involving filmmaking, so it's a shame the story isn't more intricate. Brugge and Haythe structure it cleverly; after the story branches into two, it only takes a little while to realise that the parallel threads aren't happening in the same timeframe, which leaves the conclusion seriously in doubt and adds to the emotional undercurrent. But the two strands balance the sentiment and action nicely--and there are a few high points in both areas. But beyond the emotive and intellectual subtext there's not much happening here, really. At its core this is a simplistic TV-movie style kidnapping drama, livened up with an extraordinary cast and shrewd editing.

cert 15 themes, language 18.Jun.04

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall