The Clearing

Cool, restrained and steeped in tight-lipped WASP repression, producer Pieter Jan Brugge's directing debut tells two intimately connected stories simultaneously and unites them in a chilly fog of sadness. Having made a fortune in the car-rental business and cashed out, businessman Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) is restless and unfulfilled. Their children grown,...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Cool, restrained and steeped in tight-lipped WASP repression, producer Pieter Jan Brugge's directing debut tells two intimately connected stories simultaneously and unites them in a chilly fog of sadness. Having made a fortune in the car-rental business and cashed out, businessman Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) is restless and unfulfilled. Their children grown, he and his wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren), build their dream home in Pittsburgh, but Wayne can't bring himself to stop working and Eileen submerges her restlessness in petty, make-work pastimes. Still, their relationship appears familiar and loving, if a little cool, and their lives ordinary, if more than usually privileged. Ordinary, at least, until the morning Wayne is efficiently abducted from the foot of his driveway. Eileen doesn't know he's gone until that evening, and assumes he's just late. But after an awkward evening of entertaining dinner guests around Wayne's absence, Eileen files a missing-person report. When Wayne's car turns up in an unfamiliar parking lot, the case is classified as a kidnapping. The story splits into two separate but parallel narratives, one following Wayne's efforts to negotiate with sad-sack abductor Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe), and the other chronicling Eileen's crash course in doing nothing, buffeted by the dictates of FBI agents and the whims of her husband's captor or captors. Arnold confesses that he's not the mastermind behind Wayne's abduction; he's an errand boy who was hired to bring Wayne to the mountaintop cabin where the real kidnappers await. Eileen admits to Agent Fuller (Matt Craven) that Wayne once cheated on her; Fuller reveals that he kept in touch with his mistress (Wendy Crewson). Wayne draws out the admission that he and the disappointed, underemployed Arnold once crossed paths. The Hayes children, Tim (Alessandro Nivola) and Jill (Melissa Sagemiller), move back in and though they're ostensibly there to give their mother moral support, Eileen spends more time comforting them than the reverse. Although Brugge crosscuts between the two stories at roughly equal intervals, it gradually becomes clear that they're not unfolding in parallel time, and a frosty suspicion gathers around the edges of the story like cold around the heart. Like Mike Hodges' equally icy I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD (2004), this anti-thriller radiates dread rather than suspense; it delivers creeping apprehension rather than adrenaline-pumping kicks, and the uniformly strong and finely calibrated performances more than compensate for the absence of technical razzle-dazzle.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Cool, restrained and steeped in tight-lipped WASP repression, producer Pieter Jan Brugge's directing debut tells two intimately connected stories simultaneously and unites them in a chilly fog of sadness. Having made a fortune in the car-rental business an… (more)

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