Intense kidnap drama makes for smart summer fare
By Devin D. O'Leary
Directed by Pieter Jan Brugge
Cast: Robert Redford, Willem Dafoe, Helen Mirren
Summertime is not noted for its wealth of adult-oriented movie entertainment. In fact, sophisticated adults tend to flee theaters in droves when the lobbies fill with popcorn-spewing rugrats and the marquees shout titles like The Chronicles of Riddick, White Chicks and Dodgeball. Conventional Hollywood wisdom is that teenagers get the run of summer and adults are relegated to the late fall Oscar rush. Which is why it's a little surprising to see a film like The Clearing show up in theaters right now against the overhyped likes of Spider-Man 2 and King Arthur.
I sincerely hope intelligent moviegoers brave the cineplexes and take the opportunity to check out this tight little thriller. It is one of the best films of the year, and certainly the smartest, most mature piece of entertainment you'll find all summer.
The Clearing marks the directing debut of longtime producer Pieter Jan Brugge (Glory, The Pelican Brief, Heat, The Insider). It stars acting icon Robert Redford as a wealthy white-collar executive who gets kidnapped one morning by an impoverished ex-employee (Willem Dafoe). While our millionaire is led to a hiding place out in the lovely North Carolina woods, his long-suffering wife (Helen Mirren) must deal with ransom demands, the intrusion of an FBI investigation and her crumbling faith in her husband's survival.
Though it has the hallmarks of a typical movie thriller, The Clearing is more of a dark, deeply personal drama. Redford and Dafoe spend most of their time simply talking. Redford is wonderfully expressive as a hardworking self-made millionaire who, despite his lifetime of success, hasn't really figured out how to translate money into happiness. From the outset, Dafoe takes on what looks like a typical psycho role for him. But he delivers a surprisingly sympathetic performance as an easygoing guy simply pushed to the end of his economic rope.
Mirren, meanwhile—seperated from the bulk of the action—delivers a devastating, Oscar-quality performance. The gamut of emotions her character runs through is simply exhausting. Not only is she forced to deal with her spouse's kidnapping, but the FBI investigation starts to dig up some ugly family secrets—revelations that hit with as much impact as that kidnapper's bullet might.
Although the film doesn't aim for quick Silence of the Lambs-style shocks, it builds up an almost unbearable level of tension. At first, the two story lines (husband's story, wife's story) run parallel to one another. About halfway through, however, it becomes apparent that the two timelines just don't synch up. The husband's kidnapping and grueling trek through the woods take place over the course of a single day. But the wife's travails cover at least a week or two. It's evident that we have seen nothing of the husband after the first day. We are in the dark as much as the wife. Is he alive or dead? What will the outcome be? The film does an astounding job of slowly leaking ice water into the veins of viewers. Although the film isn't your typical, fast-paced Hollywood thriller, nearly everyone in the theater will experience dry mouths and sweaty palms by the end of this raw nerve drama.
Seriously, if you've been avoiding movie theaters just because radioactive teenagers in red and blue Spandex aren't your cup of tea, take this rare chance to reclaim some small chunk of cineplex real estate for the adults in the audience.
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