The Clearing (2004) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for language, violence, and some sexualty
Running Time: 91 min.

Cast: Robert Redford, Willem Dafoe, Helen Mirren, Matt Craven, Alessandro Nivola, Melissa Sagemiller
Director: Pieter Jan Brugge
Screenplay: Justin Haythe
Review published January 13, 2005

Academy Award nominated producer, Pieter Jan Brugge (The Insider, Bulworth), takes a stab at directing for the first time, based on a story he conceived of, with mixed results.  Actually, he handles the presentation fine -- this is a well-written and adeptly directed piece by most accounts.  The only problem is that it is all a setup for an exciting climax that never develops.  Just when things should be heating up, it all falls flat, as intelligent as it may be. 

Redford (Spy Game, The Last Castle) plays Wayne Hayes, a self-made millionaire who has it all, but is suffering from the usual doldrums of a stale marriage and business that doesn’t exactly titillate like it once did.  Things are different today, as he gains a visitor in his car, a gun-brandishing man named Arnold (Dafoe, Auto Focus), who forces him to drive out into the far-away woods for a very long trek on foot.  Meanwhile, Wayne’s long-suffering wife, Eileen (Mirren, Caligula), has called the authorities, who have moved into their home to help with trying to locate Wayne, and also to prepare for the ransom notification they know is forthcoming. 

The Clearing is an interesting dramatic thriller, which does manage to keep your interest right up until the credits roll.  However, once we’re at that stage, it is fairly obvious that we never received a pay-off for all of our invested interest.  The solid casting of Redford, Dafoe, and Mirren does give the story some weight, but the plot itself isn’t really constructed with any degree of the necessary pulse pounding action. 

Even at a mere 91 minutes, The Clearing is filled with a number of needless scenes and characters that take up an inordinate amount of screen time, such as the Hayes’ children and Wayne’s mistress, who are important for the main story, but they add very little on their own.  Brugge has the vision, the acting talent, and the characters for a solid thriller, but he needed more time in plot development to truly make this tepid thriller leave a lasting impression. 

The Clearing is worth a peek for big fans of the stars, and for people who enjoy interesting, intelligent dramas, even if they don’t ultimately amount to much.  Although some big names are attached to the project, keep your expectations tempered, as this has an indie film feel through and through.  Based on the work he’s turned in, it’s clear that Brugge has a future as a director if he so chooses to give up time producing.  All he needs is to work with someone proven (this is screenwriter Justin Haythe’s first project as well) to hammer his ideas into something more gritty and arresting before the cameras start to roll.

Qwipster's rating:

©2005 Vince Leo