The Clearing

Kidnap dramas hold few surprises. As a mystery man (Willem Dafoe) snatches fat-cat executive Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) from the Pittsburgh mansion he shares with his wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren), you wait for the plot gears to grind in the timeworn thriller manner.

That they do. The pleasures of this endeavor, directed with a keen eye for detail by Pieter Jan Brugge, come from what the actors bring to the material. Dafoe adds a note of vulnerability to the menace he has made his stock in trade. And Mirren, who can do more with a glance than most actresses could do with pages of dialogue, etches a moving portrait of a loving wife bruised by sexual betrayal. The big news is Redford, who gives a performance of quiet, riveting intensity as the adulterous husband forced to examine his life and his feelings as his captor drags him through the woods to a hiding place that seems forever out of reach. These are the psychological underpinnings that put The Clearing on solid ground.

From The Archives Issue 952: July 8, 2004