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The Clearing | Review

All Tied-up

Trio of strong performances are the only worhty highlights in thrill-less feature.

Sitting in the director’s chair for the first time is the producer behind such films as Bulworth and The Insider. Pieter Jan Brugge knows his market well – the adult moviegoer audience will certainly be drawn to the film because of the three marquee names, unfortunately, Brugge’s multi-tasking in the school of entertainment seems to be a daunting task for the first-timer whose film proves that the presence of fine actors does necessarily guarantee a hit.

More often than not, personal success is measured not by the number of good deeds one does but by the amount of dollars one has in their bank account. Justin Haythe’s script unhurriedly reveals that the true American dream is about those who live it — not in a house with a white picket fence but in a home with people to love. Step on a couple of toes on your way to the top, sell your chips and cash in, this is what Robert Redford’s (Spy Game) character of Wayne does and his success as a self-made millionaire looking forward to his retirement fund ultimately draws some closer, envious attention. Being rich with love and not money is a life lesson and theory that his kidnapper played by Willem Dafoe (Auto Focus) understands differently and yet it is a message that helps support his long-time wife Eileen (Helen Mirren – Gosford Park) in coming to terms with the unbearable events. After a regular morning breakfast before work, the narrative splits into two. One part focuses mostly on showing the anguished-stricken wife learning some things she would rather have not have known, such as how to deal with a hostage situation and how to deal with being angry at a person which you may never see again. The other part sees a kidnapper and his victim getting to know one another on a treacherous hike in the woods.

The Clearing is a thriller without the usual thriller-edge which avoids a too often witnessed formula by concentrating more on a three-set character study. Though there is a usual hostage premise, the film is more in tune with this methodical examination that reflects upon the fractured distance, yet loving relationship between husband and wife. The cuts back and forth purposely disrupt the flow of the film – bringing together the two; it may have been more profound without the trio of useless dreamy sequences. There are some spots where the film might have benefited from making some things more clearer and some items more of a mystery. Repeating the fate of Redford’s character could have been avoided and so could the usual questioning sequence, instead replacing it by putting the viewer Mirren’s character’s mind and inside her new sense of loss. Even more frustrating than a narrative that sometimes feels seems adrift and incomplete, was the annoying presence of the FBI dude who shares the forefront with the couple’s adult children. The adult son played by Alessandro Nivola (Laurel Canyon) justed seemed to fill up the space and lacked conviction. While the heavy use of close-ups certainly made the pain look good on Mirren it didn’t serve as well for Redofrd’s character who looked good in sweat but proved to be too much of an amplifier of sorts in revealing his character’s psychological tactical battle with his captor. There is even one annoying sequence down by a creek which could have used a long shot to deal better with the sound problems. The more glowing aspect are the performances – Mirren might get some early Oscar buzz but its hard to give out a trophy to a film where the climate is dull.

Brugge’s The Clearing gets high marks for pulling away from the conventional format with a more psychological treatment, but the film also fails to keep the mystery intact and leaves the viewer with a unsalvageable final act. It starts off on a promising note but ultimately lacks purpose, lacks punch and doesn’t deliver enough palpitations to make this a worthy sit-through.

Reviewed by: Ismail Bouafia

Rating 2 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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