If Helen Mirren, Willem Dafoe and Robert Redford can’t save a movie, then it isn’t worth saving. Such is the fate of The Clearing, a dull film about sad and lonely people caught in a kidnapping scheme.

Kidnapping, you say? Why, that’s dramatic stuff, right? Don’t get too excited. This is not an action thriller.

The Clearing is a drama about families falling apart and there just happens to be a kidnapping. As far as kidnappings go, this one is not all that exciting. In fact, the victim’s wife discovers her husband is missing when he doesn’t show up for a dinner party in their plush suburban home. And the party doesn’t look all that fun either.

The drab drama follows Wayne Hayes (Redford), a self-made man with an elegant wife, two adult kids and a mistress. Mirren plays Wayne’s wife, who masks her loneliness with swims in the pool, shopping trips, fine china and luxurious linens.

Dafoe is Arnold Mack, a former employee who has plotted for years to kidnap Hayes. Mack lost his job at Hayes’ company years before and his life hasn’t turned around since. Other than that, writer Justin Haythe and director Pieter Jan Brugge don’t give Mack much motivation for holding Wayne at gunpoint. I mean, a lot of people are unhappy but how many turn guns on their old bosses?

Maybe the saddest part of the whole ordeal is that if the characters had been a touch more compelling and shown a tad more emotion, one could accept the story’s flaws.

As Arnold drags Wayne on a ridiculously long trip through the woods, one can’t help but wonder, “Why isn’t Hayes more defiant?” Moreover, when he does fight back, why on earth does he turn his back on his unconscious captor? C’mon people. Anyone who has watched television knows you don’t leave the gun near the knocked-out guy. He always wakes up.

And what does the wife do while waiting for news on her missing husband? She goes shopping.

The film is short on dialogue, meaning the viewer has to mine the actors’ every movement for motivation. It never turns up.

Mirren’s performance is the best the movie offers. She subtly shows the wife’s struggle to reconcile the idea that her philandering husband’s fate is in her hands.

But, like every character in the film, she lacks passion.

The Clearing is a waste of a leading role for a woman over 40, and a waste of a rare appearance by Redford.


Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Road, Bloomfield Hills, on Friday, July 23. Call 248-855-9091.

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