As much as I didn’t want it to be what with the excellent cast of great actors, “The Clearing” is a surprisingly routine hostage flick with all the usual foibles and aspects you’d expect from a film such as this. Plus, it comes off in the end as utterly incomplete and half-assed. I love Robert Redford, and I think he’s still an immensely talented man, but this is just an overall lame-brained attempt at something more existential. The film goes on and on without even much of a full concept. We have Helen Mirren’s character who is desperate for her husband but begins exploring his shady past and their life together, but that’s never really explored with as much depth as it could have been, we meet the children, one is an eager son, the other is a beautiful daughter, but they’re never truly explored, then we have the bonding of this family whom were disconnected in life but connect during this tragedy, and sadly, that is a concept not truly explored as I wanted it to be.
What can you say about Robert Redford that would be deemed original? This man can perform these roles in his sleep without ever reading the script. Regardless, Redford and Dafoe have great chemistry, and the story is rather sad and involving as these two men engage in a battle of wits and wills that will lead to a rather interesting climax that will be either expected or disappointing depending on how you prefer to look at it. With the exchanges between Dafoe’s character and Redford’s character, it’s all just so hum drum, and I was just completely disappointed. Redford and Dafoe exchange dialogue back and forth in a by the numbers manner, talking about their lives, trying to compromise, Redford gets resistant occasionally failing to make a getaway, there’s silence between them, he occasionally gets difficult. It’s just so plain. Plus, there’s an immense lack of suspense or tension in any of the situations presented here, and the concept of the allusion to the fact that perhaps the character of Dafoe having a connection with one of Redford’s past dealings is also never explored to increase tension or mystery, and it all ends so abruptly resulting in an unsatisfying end product.
“The Clearing” is much of a struggle of the working class and the rich class. The two men presented here through linear contrasting in the great opening credits are both very much alike, but both very different in terms of character. In “The Clearing” we’re finally given a sense of the figurative clashing between the working man and his higher up boss in the form of Willem Dafoe and Robert Redford, and, in the end asks a question that if these two are so much alike, why aren’t they headed down the same path? With the sense of unease, ala “River’s Edge”, we witness the confliction of these two men who struggle with their own inner-demons while being forced together in the woods. Wayne Hayes and Arnold Mack end up becoming very similar in comparison, but there’s the question of what triggered this ultimate act of crime.
Along with the great chemistry from Dafoe and Redford whom handle the frenetic dialogue as only pros such as they can, there are also some excellent performances from Helen Mirren who is struggling with her own demons, coming to grips with her husband’s past, and being forced to face that perhaps he may not be coming home. Meanwhile, the director gives us a very taut depiction of a hostage situation that is less about getting money for ransom and more about settling a personal vendetta against someone who never really did him any harm. Dafoe is great as the conflicted and obviously amateur Mack who never really seems to know how to go about the situations, nor does he seem to know what he wants, while Redford–well, Redford is Redford. While the film does manage to boast some excellent performances, including from Dafoe and Redford whom handle the roles like pros, I just expected a lot more in the end, and really just didn’t get it with a routine script, bland plot, and an ending that was too sudden to be accepted.