A review of “The Clearing” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ***

Rating: R for strong language and violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes



Outstanding performances by veterans Robert Redford and Helen Mirren are at the core of this spare and disturbing psychological thriller.

Redford is rental car tycoon Wayne Hayes, flush with financial success and settled into a comfortable marriage with wife Eileen (Mirren).  On a routine trip to the office, Wayne is kidnapped by disgruntled ex-employee “Arnold” (Willem Dafoe) and whisked to the woods for a delirious trek to an abandoned cabin.

In true kidnap drama fashion, the FBI is called in to take up residence at the Hayes’ Pittsburgh mansion. Adult children Tim (Alessandro Nivola) and Jill (Melissa Sagemiller) arrive to support their mother and await the inevitable ransom notice.

The demand is for uncut diamonds and cash, but at this point the film’s technique wrestles control from the story.  Shot from both Wayne’s and Eileen’s points of view, it gradually dawns that the dual narratives aren’t running in parallel time.  This clever approach confounds yet forces the gray matter to stand up and take notice.

Loss of control equals tension, and The Clearing is saturated with it. Wayne, a man who inspires confidence, flatters his keeper into revealing more than he should.  Eileen keeps a stiff upper lip while the feds dig deep into her marriage and toss through the couple’s dirty laundry.

Golden God Redford is aging along with the rest of us; he’s more than just a pretty face and proves it with an electric and pragmatic performance.  Mirren is pure elegant veneer, maintaining tight control of her surface emotions while subtly betraying anxiety and the fissures of a decades-old union.

The mood is atmospheric and the pace occasionally falters, but this is mature and thought-provoking work.