I wonder sometimes if my movie watching habits have spoiled me for more quiet, thoughtful films. Here is a movie with no exploding robots, flesh-eating zombies, or outer-space laser battles. Instead, The Clearing is a simple dramatic piece about a rental car tycoon, his wife, and the man who kidnaps him.
The film starts with a typical morning of a well-to-do married couple, Wayne and Eileen Hayes (Robert Redford and Helen Mirren). Their individual storylines in the movie diverge when he is kidnapped by Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe), a former employee of Wayne's company. Most of Eileen's specific storyline shows her trying to deal with the kidnapping, their grown-up children, and an unpleasant, old secret that the FBI uncovers while trying to solve this case. Redford's ordeal is shown in a long march through some woods while he and his kidnapper hold conversations that start out almost bizarrely normal but turn into Wayne desperately trying to save his own life.
I was somewhat interested by the characters and their dilemmas, but because I expect a movie with this kind of subject matter to be more richly plotted, my emotions weren't as engaged as I though they should be. Redford, Mirren and Dafoe do as splendid jobs as I would expect them to do, however Dafoe has the most interesting part. His Arnold is not a stupid man, but he just doesn't have the ability to financially succeed the way he thinks he ought to. He is a quintessential loser - not completely down and out, but considering he thinks the ticket to happiness is kidnapping a rich man and holding him for ransom, he obviously is a couple of nickels short of a dollar.
Overall the disc is decent, with good sound and sharp pictures. Like the underwritten story, the extra goodies are sparse. The obligatory commentary (with director Pieter Jan Brugge, screenwriter Justin Haythe, and editor Kevin Tent) spends most of its time talking about all the subtle nuances of the story - they dissect the movie the way I might expect an english professor to parse Madame Bovary. The deleted scenes add nothing to the story but do display wise choices by the director and editor - the scenes would have done nothing but pad out the scant story that is there.
The disc has one extra that is fairly unique - the screenplay. Screenplays make interesting reading and I enjoy noting what changes were made to the story and why. The commentary and the screenplay complement each other and would better serve a more interesting story.
In short, this movie is too subtle for its own good. People who appreciate understated performances by some of the better actors around will enjoy this picture but I don't think they will hold it to their hearts. I was left with the frustrated feeling that it would not have taken much to turn this movie into a classic thriller, although what that little extra would have been I couldn't tell you. Maybe some exploding robots.