THE CLEARING

"Weak"

THE CLEARING Review


One simple thing a filmmaker can do to make a picture better is to clearly establish time and place. You'd think that such a thing would be a given, but it's surprising how many filmmakers disregard this simple concept.

For the new film "The Clearing," writer Justin Haythe and writer/director Pieter Jan Brugge (a producer on "Bulworth," The Insider" and other films, making his directorial debut) probably intended to play with time, to bend it and stretch it to serve their purposes. But in the end, they only serve to alienate us by deliberately confusing us.

The film begins like a standard-issue kidnapping story, similar to 2000's "Proof of Life" and a dozen others. The filmmakers cut back and forth between the kidnap victim and his fretting wife, trying to build an equal amount of suspense within each storyline.

A car-rental tycoon, Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford), lives comfortably with his wife Eileen (Helen Mirren) until a creepy kidnapper (Willem Dafoe) snatches him out of his driveway one morning. (We know he's a creepy kidnapper because he slicks down his hair and wears a short-sleeve, button-down shirt.) He records a "honey I'm fine" message on a tape and they head for the woods, where they begin walking.

This thoughtful kidnapper provides Wayne with a pair of comfortable walking shoes and even brings sandwiches and cigarettes. As we would expect from a Hollywood film, Wayne begins trying to psychologically badger his captor, attempting to call his bluff.

At home, the film's timeline begins to skew. Eileen receives items in the mail, causing us to wonder -- from where in the woods did the kidnapper mail this? How did it arrive in less than one day?

Things get even muddier when the kidnapper's demand comes in for $9.5 million worth of diamonds and half a million in cash. He gives Eileen three days to come up with it, and she does. Have the kidnapper and Wayne been walking through the woods for three days with only a couple of sandwiches to sustain them? Or did Eileen gather up the diamonds in less than one day?

It turns out that the filmmakers do have an agenda, but it's not as surprising or as clever as you may think. And the skewed timeline reveals everything anyway.

The basic problem comes not with the timeline, but with the dual storylines. In "Proof of Life," kidnap victim David Morse carried the film, while the silly romance between fretting wife Meg Ryan and hostage negotiator Russell Crowe only slowed things down.

But in a superb film like George Sluizer's "The Vanishing" -- the 1988 Dutch original, not the 1993 American remake -- we follow the victim's family, getting to the kidnapper only late in the game. We share in their frustration of not knowing, and only being able to imagine the horrors their loved one might be going through.

Directorially, Brugge attempts to create an atmosphere of quiet dread similar to "The Vanishing," but he fails to use some of his most basic weapons. The woods could have been used for extraordinary visual designs, illustrating terror or claustrophobia. But instead he opts for endless close-ups of his actors as they sweat and get dirty. It's more tiresome than suspenseful.

Ultimately, "The Clearing" is one of those movies that inspires a "what were they thinking?" response. Why would such a great actress as Mirren want to play a nothing "victim" role after her brilliant long-running turn as a homicide detective on "Prime Suspect"? And why would the accomplished Dafoe want to play yet another slimy creep?

As for Redford, I have a feeling that this screenplay and its non-traditional ending may have inspired in him some nostalgia for the 1970s -- when they actually made brave films from time to time. Unfortunately "The Clearing" is not so much brave as it is transparent.



THE CLEARING

Facts and Figures

Run time: 95 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 23rd December 2004

Box Office USA: $5.6M

Box Office Worldwide: $12.5M

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Production compaines: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
Fresh: 56 Rotten: 75

IMDB: 5.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Wayne Hayes, as Eileen Hayes, as Arnold Mack, as Tim Hayes, as Agent Ray Fuller, as Jill Hayes

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

The Big Sick Movie Review

The Big Sick Movie Review

It may be rather long for a romantic comedy, but this film has such a...

The Emoji Movie Movie Review

The Emoji Movie Movie Review

There's no reason why this animated comedy adventure needed to be this pointless. Solidly entertaining...

Advertisement
England Is Mine Movie Review

England Is Mine Movie Review

While this is billed as a film about The Smiths' singer-songwriter Morrissey, it's actually an...

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review

It's been 20 years since French filmmaker Luc Besson shook up the sci-fi genre with...

Dunkirk Movie Review

Dunkirk Movie Review

Britain's epic 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk has been dramatised on film before, but no one...

Killing Ground Movie Review

Killing Ground Movie Review

From Australia, this dark and edgy thriller is skilfully made by writer-director Damien Power to...

City of Ghosts Movie Review

City of Ghosts Movie Review

This award-winning documentary plays like a thriller as it traces the work of a group...

Cars 3 Movie Review

Cars 3 Movie Review

It's been six years since the last Cars movie (there were two Planes movies in...

The Beguiled Movie Review

The Beguiled Movie Review

In her inimitable loose style, Sofia Coppola remakes the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie from a...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.