In its chilling opener, THE CLEARING paints a classic portrait of rich man vs. poor man, showing the morning routines of two very similar characters. Though they are both white, middle-aged, and of middle-class stature, the nuances that differentiate them--their houses, their wives, their clothing--jump off the screen with stark clarity. With a slightly jumbled chronology, the subsequent events come not with shock but with devastating realness. Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) is in his Lexus on his way to work when Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe) kidnaps him. It all happens calmly with purposeful execution. Mack wants money, and will use Hayes as ransom to get it. The film then turns to Hayes' elegant wife (Helen Mirren, who is a tour-de-force in this quietly emotive role) and well-bred family, who are saddled with a ransom negotiator and FBI surveillance, and are forced to face the tragedy.
With no outright violence, no sudden bursts of surprise, and no wasted time, THE CLEARING is a captivating, masterful suspense thriller. Debut director Pieter Jan Brugge works from a screenplay by Justin Haythe in telling this deeply unsettling tale. Hayes and Mack (the superb and intense pairing of Redford and Dafoe) argue their opposite points of view through conversations about family, morality, and power. Meanwhile, safe at home, Hayes' wife undergoes ups and downs reevaluating her marriage and her love for her husband as investigators dig through the intricacies and secrets of their lives.
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