The Clearing Pieter Jan Brugge

What if your spouse was kidnapped and your life pretty much stayed the same? This is the dilemma Eileen Hayes (Helen Mirren) finds herself in when a mystery man (Willem Dafoe) snatches her fat-cat husband, Wayne (Robert Redford) from their Pittsburgh mansion. While the audience consumes itself with thoughts of her husband's inevitable demise — is he dead on the freeway, stolen by a lunatic? — Eileen doesn't even break a sweat. Throwing any thoughts of hand-wringing out the window, the preternaturally calm doyenne instead continues with her already scheduled dinner party, calmly making excuses for her absent husband. It is not until the wee hours of the morning, house clean and children tucked into bed, that Eileen picks up the phone and dials the feds. In his first feature, Pieter Jan Brugge aims for highly-styled intelligence but ends up hanging back just a little too much. Brugge, who cut his teeth producing some of the best thrillers of the '90s (Heat, The Insider), claims in the commentary to have leaned much from the making of these films. Telling the story in parallel story lines was "essential in creating the appropriate tension" and in any other film might have helped to serve its objective. But here it leaves us confused: is this a film about an unreciprocated marriage or about a kidnapping? We are left more confused than engaged. To be sure, the film has its taut moments. A scene in which Mirren confronts her husband's mistress (Wendy Crewson) is particularly good but ends abruptly, leaving the picture feeling emotionally inert. Clocking in at a terse 91 minutes, the film's energy grows colder and conceptually more minimal as the clock winds down. Even as Wayne is handcuffed and force-marched through the woods by his sad-sack kidnapper to a house where his accomplices allegedly wait, the audience never really gets a sense that there is a power struggle at work. Arnold may be the one brandishing the weapon, but it is Wayne, all cool asides and steady observations, who is running the show. While the best thrillers exploit the subconscious fears that lay in wake at our most vulnerable moments, The Clearing tries its level best to step away from this mould, opting instead for a cold, calculated unfolding that, at its core, lacks the very element it is suppose to exploit: tension. The Clearing promises quite a lot but ultimately delivers little. Plus: deleted scenes, full-length screenplay. (Fox)