Redford is Da-foe
Writer and director Pieter Jan Brugge must have thought he'd struck gold when he got Robert Redford, Helen Mirren and Willem Dafoe to star in his movie. And to be honest it is that trio of names more than anything else which lures you into watching "The Clearing" a kidnap storyline inspired by a true story. Unfortunately whilst each of the stars give good performances "The Clearing" ends up not bad but quite dull, lacking the intensity which this sort of thriller screams out for. It is still reasonably clever and for a thriller which on the surface is about a kidnap also has a subtle romantic depth to it, but that still doesn't make up for its almost lethargic styling.
Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford - The Last Castle) and his wife Eileen (Helen Mirren - Calendar Girls) have done it, they started with nothing and through hard work and facing troubles together have built a successful business. As such they live in a nice house, have no money worries and their children are grown up and happy. But their perfect world is turned upside down when Wayne is kidnapped by Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe - Spider-Man). Lead through a forest Wayne finds himself trying to negotiate with Arnold to save himself, whilst Eileen finds herself not only dealing with the FBI who take residence but also secrets which come out. But alongside these immediate issues both Wayne and Eileen re-evaluate their lives as in the darkness they realise how much they mean to each other.
Now it has to be said that there is something a little clever about "The Clearing" because basically we have two branches of a story to follow, Arnold leading Wayne through the woods and then Eileen at home with the family dealing with the demands and the FBI. Pieter Jan Brugge does such a good job of switching between the two that initially it causes a bit of confusion whilst leading you to think whether Arnold is working alone. It soon makes sense as we realise that these two branches are not in the same timeline as the kidnapping side of things happen in the space of a day whilst watching Eileen deal with the FBI and demands spans a few days.
As such what you have is really a movie of two sides with both having their positives and negatives. The more interesting side for me is watching Eileen deal with the situation, deal with the advice from the FBI as well as learning things about her husband she never knew. None of which is that exciting, there is no real drama to any of this other than some raised emotions as her son struggles to deal with what is happening. But then you have Helen Mirren whose restrained, very normal characterisation makes it interesting, the coldness brought on from shock as she deals with things makes for a much more interesting character than normal hysterics.
The flip side of this is we then have Arnold kidnapping Wayne and leading him through the woods and it is bemusing because this is not a vicious kidnapping, in fact it is almost pleasant. By that we watch as Arnold actually wants Wayne to be comfortable as he marches him through the woods, he gives him trainers to wear, brings sandwiches for him to eat and they chat. The trouble is that none of this is exciting, there is no intensity to this, no sense of danger or time running out and sadly it makes it feel dull. It's almost more amusing than exciting despite there never being any comedy and whilst they are both outshone by Mirren, Willem Dafoe and Robert Redford are solid as Arnold and Wayne, forgettable but solid.
But it is not just the lack of tension which is an issue but also a lack of motive. Now I like movies which don't spoon feed us with information and so we are for the most left to make up our own minds why Arnold selected Wayne. And as such you can come to conclusions that there is an element of jealousy and an element of disappointment in his own life but we are never given the reason to confirm are thoughts and for me that is a shame as it makes it incomplete.
What this all boils down to is that "The Clearing" ends up sadly a forgettable movie and it is sad because it does try and be different to the norm. But because the tension of the situation never manifests itself it just ends up being almost one level from beginning to end.