The Clearing

The Clearing (2004)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes

When successful businessman Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) kisses his wife Eileen (Helen Mirren) goodbye one morning and begins to drive off to work, everything seems normal. But when a man named Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe) stops him at the end of his driveway Wayne ends up finding himself kidnapped at gunpoint. From this point forward the movie splits between story lines: Wayne, with his hands tied, is being led through a large forest by Arnold, and Eileen, worried that her husband hasn’t returned home contacts her children and the FBI.

When I saw the trailer for this film earlier this year, I was intrigued by it. It looked like a smart thriller with a great cast. Unfortunately now that I’ve watched the film I’ve come away unfulfilled. The storyline is extremely basic and almost seems like they only had about 30 minutes of script and somehow dragged it out to just over an hour and a half. Because the kidnapping occurs almost immediately within the film, I never felt a connection for any of the characters. Robert Redford and Willem Dafoe do a decent job with the material they’re given, but Helen Mirren’s performance is very one-dimensional. I’m not sure if her character was supposed to have very little emotional reactions to what has and is happening to her family or if this was how the director wanted the character to act. I also found the film very predictable. Some key events, and the fact that the two storylines don’t run parallel, are very obvious to those that pay attention. The film wasn’t bad and I’m glad they decided not to go with the stereotypical Hollywood cliché’s but I did expect more.

Being a small independent film, little attention was paid to the quality of the image. The overall image looks very soft. The complete lack of detail gives the film a flat look. Even with detail lacking, small amounts of grain were still present. On the positive side, color reproduction is very nice. A majority of the outdoor scenes are shot during the daytime with a slight overcast look. This helps bring out the natural flesh tones in the actors faces. Even one scene during a rainstorm, the colors still look realistic. Black level does suffer on a few occasions though. One area of the film where Eileen is walking through the woods at night almost has an inconsistency maintaining solid black in the shadows.

The best thing about the soundtrack is the music that was mixed to surround the viewer. During the opening credits we’re played a very aggressive, bass heavy beat as we see Arnold Mack preparing for what he has planned later in the day. Suddenly the rest of the film quiets down and a subtle piano piece plays across the entire soundstage. Dialog is very inconsistent. Sometimes it’s nicely clear and quiet but most times it suffers from compression problems. For some reason in mid sentence the dialog can go from clear to muffled. During a scene involving a running brook, the center channel sounds unnatural, as almost all of the environmental effects are crammed into that one location.

An <$commentary,audio commentary> is included with the director, film editor and screenwriter. If you’ve enjoyed the movie you might want to listen to this, but for those that didn’t, this feature won’t appeal to you. Six deleted scenes with optional commentary are also available along with a theatrical trailer and a copy of the screenplay, which you will not need a DVD-ROM to enjoy (finally).

I might have enjoyed this movie more if I didn’t expect so much from a production boasting this great a cast. I expected a deeper development between Redford and Mirren’s characters, just so that I’d actually care and believe that these two people care about each other the way the film seems to throw in as the screen fades to black and the credits being rolling. At that point it just seems too late. "The Clearing" is worth renting but don’t expect much with a purchase.