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Fox Home Entertainment presents
The Clearing (2004)

Wayne: Do you love me?
Eileen: Yes.
Wayne: Then I have everything I need.

- Robert Redford, Helen Mirren

Review By: Matt Peterson   
Published: November 07, 2004

Stars: Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe
Other Stars: Alessandro Nivola, Matt Craven, Melissa Sagemiller
Director: Pieter Jan Brugge

MPAA Rating: R for brief strong language
Run Time: 01h:34m:24s
Release Date: November 09, 2004
UPC: 024543152484
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Morning comes. Coffee is poured. Polite conversation ensues. Wayne (Robert Redford) and Eileen (Helen Mirren) are long accustomed to the roller-coaster ride of marriage, but their relationship remains intact. Still, there is a palpable air of discomfort, as though all the kinks haven't been worked out quite yet. Wayne is a prominent businessman, finally seeing success after a variety of career gambles. His routine is disrupted when the morning newspaper isn't within reaching distance of his shiny Lexus' open door. Annoyed, he gets out of the car, retrieves the paper, and continues on. This gives his assailant all the time he needs to pounce.

After pasting on a fake mustache, the working class Arnold (Willem Dafoe) attacks, taking the tycoon hostage. The two embark on a journey of time and a battle of wits, trekking through an unknown forest to an unknown destination. Arnold claims to be working for other men—he is simply the gofer, doing his part for his cut of the ransom. The conflict and potential is obvious: Rich man vs. poor man, and this time, it's the "lesser" one who has the upper hand. Conversation is centered on jobs, family, children; Arnold, too, has a wife, who he hopes to give a better life through crime. Arnold seems out of his element, uncertain in action and too kind in word. Such a situation calls for cold brutality, but Arnold seems to crave something more satisfying from Wayne, who simply wants to survive the day.

When Wayne goes missing before a long-planned dinner party, Eileen is angry, then shaken. Her first thoughts are ones of suspicion; Wayne has a history of infidelity. Has he finally left her for good? She assembles the family, and calls in the FBI, led by Agent Ray Fuller (Matt Craven). Naturally, Wayne's history is pored over in detail, looking for any connection to his possible kidnappers. Secrets unknown to Eileen are revealed, threatening to destroy the few bonds she has with her abducted husband. Still, she maintains an air of dignity and strength, hoping to protect her children and maintain the love she knows exists. Will it be enough to save her husband's life?

The Clearing is a film that should work. It boasts a top-notch cast, a promising concept and a first-time director with accomplished producing credits, including films by Michael Mann. It takes a seemingly simple story of kidnapping and ransom, but defies the conventions of such thriller-oriented material. The setup and intension seems clear: a small-budget picture that focuses on character and intense situations, resulting in a war of words, not a race against time. However, the potential is squandered on a bare script that looks to fill its intellectual gaps with shots of contemplation and emotion. What should the the core of the film, the journey through the woods, is nothing more than a collection of frankly boring exchanges. Where is the bitter debate between bourgeois and proletariat? This is clearly getting at class warfare, but never quite opens fire.

The cast is talented no doubt, but even talent needs material to shine. Helen Mirren's quietly dignified yet unfulfilled Eileen is very impressive, yet her odd turn into action thriller protagonist in the final act feels out of place. Robert Redford is nicely understated as Wayne, though his moments of anxiety seem hollow and uninspired; I don't blame him. Willem Dafoe brings a shaky complexity to his blue-collar Arnold. His motivations are hazy at best, seeming more a disappointed, betrayed friend than a cold-blooded kidnapper. Perhaps this is the point, but his motives are never truly revealed, amounting to a thriller that promises far more than it delivers.

This remains watchable due to the talent on screen, and Brugge's direction is functional, creating some effective moments. This isn't enough salvation. Tragedy tends to be a force of clearing, revealing where the heart lies; this film has heart, but needs fleshing out.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Fox’s anamorphic transfer is decent. Colors are bold, including the lush greens of the forest, and detail is good, despite an occasionally soft appearance. Contrast is solid, and edge enhancement doesn’t seem to be a problem. However, there are noticeable amounts of fine grain throughout, giving the picture a noisy appearance. This is perhaps a consequence of the low budget and frequently low lighting conditions, but I would expect a cleaner transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 audio is mostly front centered, but opens up nicely in the forest sequences. Ambient sounds of nature, such as a crow calling, fill the surrounds nicely. Craig Armstrong fills the soundstage with some fine dynamic range.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Hide and Seek
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Pieter Jan Brugge, writer Justin Haythe and editor Kevin Tent
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The extras begin with a feature-length audio commentary by director Pieter Jan Brugge, writer Justin Haythe and editor Kevin Tent. The group provides analysis of the film’s situations and themes, providing some fine interplay. Brugge also discusses his approach to the material, the challenges inherent in the performances, and more. The track is not thrilling, but it's informative.

Next is a collection of six deleted scenes with optional commentary from the director, editor and writer. Scenes include "Agent Duggan Retrieves Wayne's Shoes," "Fuller Interviews Jill and Tim," "Time Checks Up On Eileen & Eileen's Flashback," "Failed Drop OfF & Alt. Cut of Stream Scene," "Extra Subway," and the one more, which I will avoid naming due to a spoiler. There is a Play All option (15m:45s total, nonanamorphic).

The film's screenplay is also available via a series of text screens. The theatrical trailer and a "First Look" at Fox's upcoming De Niro film Hide and Seek close out the disc.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Pieter Jan Brugge's directorial debut has potential in its cast and premise, but ends up as an underwhelming thriller that squanders some intriguing themes. Performances make this worthwhile, but if you're expecting more, steer clear. Fox's disc is a quality effort.


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