Why would such a murky movie be called “The Clearing?”
Robert Redford plays Wayne, a very successful businessman who lives in a beautiful house with Eileen, his loving if somewhat reserved wife (Helen Mirren). When he does not show up for a dinner with friends he did not particularly want to see, at first she is annoyed and embarrassed. But then she is worried. She files a missing person report. And then she hears from the kidnappers.
Wayne has been abducted by Arnold (Willem Dafoe), who is frog-marching him to the top of a mountain, but won’t tell him why or what will happen to him.
Wayne is known for his skills at communication and negotiation. Can he use them to persuade Arnold to let him go?
At home, Eileen waits as the FBI tries to find Wayne and get him home. Her daughter and her son (Alessandro Nivola) with his wife and baby join her to wait.
And that’s about it. There are glimpses and hints of more. The adult daughter seems to be retreating, sleeping in her mother’s bed and curling into the fetal position, barely speaking. Eileen insists on celebrating her grandson’s first birthday. Why do we learn that after Wayne sold his business, his next venture failed?
Either these were intended to provide some subtle atmosphere and complexity to a straightforward story or (more likely) they relate to plot points that may have been diminished by last-minute cuts after unsatisfactory test screenings. They are more distracting than evocative.
But Mirren’s performance almost makes it worthwhile. She is strong and vulnerable at the same time. Her Eileen is richly complex, whether trying on clothes or confronting Wayne’s mistress. She makes us feel Wayne’s ache at the thought of losing her and adds depth and resonance to the movie that makes us feel its other failures even more sharply.
Parents should know that the movie has brief strong language and some violence. Characters drink and smoke. There are sexual references, including adultery. There are very tense scenes that may be upsetting to some audience members.
Families who see this movie should talk about the choices made by Wayne and Eileen. If you had the chance to write a note like the one Wayne writes to Eileen, what would it say? (For some similar examples in movies, see The Ox-Bow Incident and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.)
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Three Days of the Condor.