THE CLEARING directed by Pieter Jan Brugge, written by Justin Haythe, produced by Brugge, Jonah Smith and Palmer West, with Robert Redford, Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe, Alessandro Nivola, Matt Craven and Wendy Crewson. A Fox Searchlight release. 91 minutes. Opens Friday (July 2). For venues and times, see Movies, page 103. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
As Robert Redford's face has cracked and cured into a rugged topography, he's taken on a weird cast. The face says age and wisdom, but the eyes are still uncertain. On screen he still looks for approval. Compared to the flinty self-love we've grown used to from Nicholson, Eastwood and Newman, Redford's an unsettling older leading man.
He must know this, because he tends toward roles that suit. In The Clearing, he plays Wayne Hayes, a self-made man who's constructed a seductive shell for himself but forgot to fill it. He runs a successful corporation, he's built a handsome family, and he wears both like he would a wristwatch.
Kidnapped by former employee Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe), Hayes is easily revealed as a man who's paid too little attention to the particulars of his life. He can't understand why Mack is frogmarching him through the forest. He's done nothing wrong. He's an entrepreneur.
Redford is eerily convincing in the role, but never satisfying. Hayes is a character with no there there, and Redford seems content to play just that. His secrets are transparent, and Redford just can't make transparency interesting.
For interesting in this movie you have to look to Helen Mirren. Playing Hayes's wife, Eileen, she brings grace to a role that's usually no more than a screaming speech at the top of the staircase. Mirren gives Eileen grit, but not the obvious grit of the aggrieved wife. She tackles both the domestic trauma and the hostage thriller elements of the film with precision. Her scenes with her son (Alessandro Nivola) match or better anything between Redford and Dafoe, who have no chemistry at all.
The Clearing isn't a bad movie, it's just pointed in the wrong direction. Like nearly anything she's in, it could use more Helen Mirren.