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Pieter Jan Brugge
Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe, Alessandro Nivola, Matt Craven, Melissa Sagemiller, Wendy Crewson, Larry Pine, Diana Scarwid
Writing Credits:
Pieter Jan Brugge (story), Justin Haythe

Boasting the year’s most critically acclaimed and talented cast, including Robert Redford, Hellen Mirren, and William DaFoe, The Clearing is a taut, engrossing thriller about fate, love, and missed opportunities. “Redford gives one of the best performances ever” as a self-made tycoon kidnapped and now in the most important negotiation ever ... for his life ...

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$618.674 thousand on 56 screens.
Domestic Gross
$5.763 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 11/9/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director Pieter Jan Brugge, Editor Kevin Tent, and Writer Justin Haythe
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Screenplay
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Clearing (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 28, 2004)

A thriller with an introspective bent, 2004’s The Clearing introduces us to the family of business magnate Wayne Hayes (Redford). He lives with his wife Eileen (Helen Mirren), while his grown children Tim (Alessandro Nivola) and Jill (Melissa Sagemiller) have moved out and on with their lives. Wayne and Eileen maintain a fairly active lifestyle, though, and keep themselves busy with work and social engagements.

Maybe a little too busy for Wayne, as he protests when Eileen schedules a dinner party with a couple he doesn’t much like. He fails to return from work for this gathering. Initially Eileen reacts angrily, but eventually she worries about his status and she calls the police. A police detective finds Wayne’s car at the office with no signs of intrusion, and eventually Eileen receives the car keys along with a note from a kidnapper.

From there we flash back to see what happened to Wayne. We meet struggling family man Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe) as he executes his plot. He abducts Wayne and takes Wayne to the woods. Arnold claims to be the middleman. He states he’ll take Wayne to a secluded cabin, where the controlling powers will deal with the kidnapping. Much of the movie follows the interactions between the two men as they trudge through the woods. We learn more about their lives and various elements of their pasts.

In the meantime, we see the events back home with Eileen. Her kids come to comfort her and assist, and the FBI also becomes involved. We meet Agent Fuller (Matt Craven), the leader of the investigation. Eventually Eileen gets a ransom note, so we see what happens with that side of things. The movie follows the two sides of the story as we alternate between Wayne and Arnold in the woods and the Hayes family as they investigate the kidnapping.

That factor makes The Clearing an unusual take on the standard abduction story. It balances the two sides pretty evenly and offers a rich examination of both. Usually these kinds of flicks concentrate on the more active side of things, which neglects the personal impact. That definitely doesn’t occur here, as we get a very good feel for the human toll of the actions.

The Clearing also provides an extremely subdued piece of work. It moves slowly and deliberately, which works as both a positive and a negative. At times the plot can frustrate since it progresses so leisurely, but this usually acts as a strength. It allows for us to get more involved and in touch with the characters, as it doesn’t force slam-bang action on us to maintain our interest. Either you develop an involvement with the characters or the movie totally loses you.

With such a strong cast, it seems unlikely that the movie will ever let us go. The actors all provide fine work, with kudos particularly earned by Mirren. She exudes a calm strength but she doesn’t make Eileen some super-woman. Instead, we see all dimensions of the character, including her worry and sadness. It’s a deeply human portrait of a wounded woman who holds together but doesn’t turn into an unrealistically strong ideal.

I like the gentle way that The Clearing spells out the details of the various characters’ lives. The movie runs the risk of many “Basil Exposition” scenes, especially as we watch Wayne and Arnold get to know each other. Some of the sequences come across as a little awkward, but usually the information unfolds in a natural manner. We get to know the characters in a smooth and involving manner that allows us to learn what we need while the personalities stay natural.

No one will mistake The Clearing for a slam-bang action flick. It definitely gives us a quiet take on its genre, though it tosses out some twists, particularly at the ending. However, it mainly focuses on the human element, which makes it a rich and evocative personal tale.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

The Clearing appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although much of the picture looked quite good, too many problems popped up to allow the visuals to prosper.

For the most part, sharpness seemed solid. Some light softness occasionally interfered, partially due to mild edge enhancement. However, the film usually appeared crisp and distinctive. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred. In regard to source issues, periodic instances of specks and marks popped up, but the biggest distraction came from grain. The movie exhibited a surprisingly noisy appearance, as even a number of brightly lit shots displayed a grainy look.

Clearing exhibited a subdued palette. Given how much of it took place in the woods, calm greens dominated, and a mix of other gentle, natural tones appeared. The movie featured good clarity for the colors. Blacks were fairly dense and tight, but shadows tended to be somewhat heavy. This was especially evident in the bedroom shots, which became rather thick. Other low-light images depicted better delineation, though. Quite a lot of Clearing looked great, but the mix of concerns knocked down my grade to a “B-“.

While the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Clearing remained restrained, it worked fine for the movie. The soundfield didn’t offer much scope. It mostly displayed light environmental material, which made sense for the story. Surround usage acted to echo and reinforce the atmosphere, and the back speakers also bolstered the score. That was about it, though a rainstorm late in the film added some life to the setting.

Despite the limited level of involvement presented by the soundfield, the audio succeeded due to very good quality. Speech always came across as distinctive and concise, with no concerns connected to intelligibility or edginess. Effects sounded tight and dynamic, though they didn’t usually offer much dimensionality given the flick’s spectrum. Music fared very nicely, as the score was bright and dynamic. Bass response seemed especially good, with firm, bold lows. Overall, I liked the audio of The Clearing and felt it complemented the movie well.

A smattering of supplements round out the DVD. We find an audio commentary with director Pieter Jan Brugge, editor Kevin Tent, and writer Justin Haythe. All three sit together for their running, screen-specific piece. Some interesting information appears, but much of the track seems tedious. The trio goes into topics like the script structure, story notes and editing, the cast, their take on the characters, and rehearsals, locations and visual choices. Occasionally they toss out useful and insightful information, but a lot of the time, they do little more than narrate the film. That factor combined with a fair amount of the usual generic praise makes this a sporadically good commentary but one that seems too erratic to be genuinely positive.

After this we get six deleted scenes. These run a total of 15 minutes and 43 seconds. These come across as more of the same material seen in the final flick. Mostly they focus on the situation with Eileen and the others back home, but we also find a few additions to the Wayne/Arnold sequences. For instance, Arnold talks about his demeaning job; it’s probably the most interesting of the six excisions. Overall, the clips flesh out the characters moderately but don’t stand out as particularly compelling.

We can view the scenes with or without commentary from Brugge, Tent and Haythe. They discuss some specifics about the segments and let us know why they cut them. The guys cover the pieces succinctly and provide some useful notes.

In addition to the movie’s trailer, we get its screenplay. This presents the script in a stillframe format. It’s a cool extra as we can compare the finished film to its original intentions.

Most kidnapping stories focus on action and danger. Those elements take a backseat in The Clearing, a quiet film that prefers to use its theme as an excuse to explore human dynamics and the intricacies of relationships. It becomes a little slow at times, but it usually provides a rich and engrossing tale. The DVD offers decent but unexceptional picture and sound plus a smattering of moderately informative extras. The Clearing doesn’t excel as a DVD, but it does what it needs to do, and the movie provides enough satisfaction to earn this release my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.4 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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