Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) lives the American Dream. He's built a life for himself by starting his own car rental business and is now enjoying the benefits of what he has gained in his latter years. Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe) comes from a family of "disappointed people". He was laid-off from a good job at a company where Hayes used to work many years ago, and now makes his living as a park guide in the Pittsburgh area. One morning, on his way to work, Hayes gets a visit from Mack – who kidnaps him and leads him out to a wooded area – leaving Hayes' wife (Helen Mirren) behind to wonder what has happened to her husband.
This is the premise for The Clearing, a movie that starts off like a typical Hollywood cliché, but develops into a character study that is both fascinating to watch, and realistic in its depiction. The real drive behind this movie comes from its cast. Redford is solid, as always – and Dafoe, who has played more than a few "loose canons" in his acting career, finds something fresh and different here – a man who perhaps doesn't really want to be doing the evil things he is doing, but thinks he has no other choice at this point in his life.
Mirren is quite good, also, in her performance of Eileen Hayes. When she first suspects that Wayne has gone missing, her reaction is one of confusion to the audience – she doesn't panic as we would expect a wife to do. At first, we think she is a bit cold-hearted, but as we get to understand Wayne and Eileen's past, we understand why she had the reaction that she did.
The Clearing isn't so much about what will happen to Wayne as it is about the relationship between Wayne and Eileen (characters who only spend a few minutes of screen time together) and the effects on each person when they realize that they may never see the other again. Also adding to the movie's credibility is the fact that the resolution isn't the one the audience will be expecting – but it's a realistic one. No "Hollywood Ending" here, but rather a conclusion that will stay with you long after you are done watching the film.
The movie is presented in the widescreen anamorphic format, at it's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While there is just a hint of grain evident in the print, I'm guessing that it's from the original print and not due to a less than quality transfer. There's an overall lack of sharpness to the picture, giving it somewhat of a "softer" look, but once again, I think this is from the print rather than the transfer. Colors are good (if somewhat dulled – once again, intentionally), and all in all I was quite happy with the picture quality here.
The audio here is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and while it's not an excessively active track, I have no real complaints. Dialogue is clear and free of defects, and Craig Armstrong's subtle soundtrack gives the picture a very haunting feel to it. French and Spanish 2.0 tracks are also available on this DVD.
The DVD includes a Feature Length Commentary Track with director Pieter Jan Brugge, writer Justin Haythe and editor Kevin Tent. It's an informative track, but not one that I found very engaging or entertaining. As commentary tracks go, this one ranks as about average.
The bonus section also contains six Deleted Scenes from the movie, all of which are interesting, but none of which add a whole lot to the movie. Viewers should be warned not to look at the list of these scenes before watching the movie as the name of one of them gives away a major plot point. These scenes are presented in the letterbox format, but they are not anamorphically enhanced. The deleted scenes also contain optional commentary by the director, which can be turned on or off.
The DVD also includes the Complete Screenplay for The Clearing which can be viewed using the right and left arrow keys on your DVD remote. One of my players (a Samsung) had problems accessing these pages, but I didn't have problems on other players. Just a word of warning if this is a feature you're anxious to look at.
Finally, the extras include the original Theatrical Trailer (letterboxed, but not anamorphic), as well as a selection entitled Inside Look, which is a teaser trailer for the upcoming Robert DeNiro movie Hide and Seek.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you like action movies, The Clearing is not for you. However, if you enjoy watching good character pieces featuring fine actors, then The Clearing is highly recommended. It's not "the feel good movie of the year," but it is one of the better ones.