In the middle of all
the mindless action films being released in the summer, The Clearing
is interesting counter-programming. Instead
of having to watch CGI undead jumping out at Hugh Jackman or twisters
destroying Los Angeles,
try this on for size. A serious, thoughtful thriller starring three
actors over 50. No car chases. No special effects. Only
one fight scene. Just good actors reading intelligent dialogue.
Hmmm. Risky, but it could work.
It helps that the acting is at such a high
level. Robert Redford and Willem Dafoe are acknowledged to be acting
powerhouses. In a nice surprise, as good as they are in their roles,
they are somewhat eclipsed by Helen Mirren, who has always been deservedly
respected but never really reached the wide audiences of her co-stars.
Redford and Mirren play Wayne and Eileen
Hayes, a well-off couple who lives in an affluent area of Pittsburgh.
From a distance they appear to have a perfect marriage. However, there
are many cracks to their perfect lifestyle. Through their problems,
they do still love each other.
The problems are thrown into sharp focus
when Wayne disappears one day. At first, Eileen is not too worried,
but by late in the night she reports him as missing. It turns out that
he has been kidnapped.
His kidnapper is Arnold Mack (Dafoe), a
man who worked with Wayne during his better years. He takes Wayne into
the woods and forces him to walk cross-country, telling him they are going
to meet the masterminds behind the plot.
Arnie tries to keep the upper hand and
also be friendly, but soon the roles are reversed as Wayne's natural
leadership abilities and basic goodness eclipse Arnie's weak-willed loser.
In the meantime, Eileen is forced to stay
home and worry. She also has to open up family secrets about Wayne's
infidelity and failing businesses to an FBI agent (Matt Craven) who has been
assigned to stay at her home as they try to get Wayne home safely.
Redford has his strongest role in years
(personally, I'd say since The Natural in 1984) as a man who is
forced to confront not only his demons, but a complete lack of control for
possibly the first time in his life. It's nice that an actor who has
all too often relied on his good looks in recent years is willing to allow
himself look unsympathetic.
Dafoe plays the latest in his rogues
gallery of pathetic losers. He's very good in the role, but then again
he always has been. It's no great stretch.
As I said earlier, the real star here is
Mirren. As an aging woman trying desperately to hold her family
together as her world falls apart, she is quite simply stunning.
Eileen is at different points horrified, strong, embarrassed, compassionate,
desperate and solid as a rock. It is a wonderful performance, one
worthy of at the very least consideration for the Best Supporting Actress
But the audience knows in their gut that
the film can't possibly end happily for any of the major characters.
And, honestly, as interesting as the central premise is, the story sometimes
bogs down into a slow, stately pace. It is supposed to be dramatic,
but it can border on being boring.
In the end, the movie isn't quite as good
as we'd like.
However, it's nice that they at least tried
to make a thought-provoking thriller about real people who have lived a full
life and still make mistakes.
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Posted: July 12, 2004.