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The Clearing came and went in the blink of an eye during its theatrical run in Australia. No sooner had the press ads (and the conspicuous lack of TV spots) been noticed, the film was pulled from cinemas around the country. One wonders whether this was a pre-determined move, with the distributors knowing full well the film didn’t have the promotional backing nor the might to go up against some of the more celebrated releases around that time (Garden State, Bad Santa, Saw, among others). Nevertheless, the short cinema run is surprising given the powerful trio headlining the production. Robert Redford, Helen Mirren and Willem Dafoe might not exactly be in their prime, but you can’t deny they are incredibly easy to watch.

Clearing, The
The film tells the tale of Wayne Hayes (Redford), who runs a successful car rental company in his home town of Pittsburgh. His wife, Eileen, seems to suffer through the daily grind of a marriage which is far from perfect. Wayne toils more on the inside, hoping his acquired wealth will soften the blow of their descent into a mundane retirement somewhat. Before long we get to the crux of the story. As Wayne is leaving for work he is stopped by former associate Arnold Mack (Dafoe). Mack gives Wayne a package then jumps in the car and puts a gun to his head.

When Wayne doesn’t return home Eileen informs the police and the ball starts rolling. Their two grown children (Melissa Sagemiller and the underrated Allesandro Nivola) return home to be with their calm but concerned mother. The feds accompany them also, going as far as having an agent permanently stationed at the house. Piece by piece they try and unravel the mystery of Wayne’s disappearance, as we switch between Eileen at home and Wayne enduring his kidnapping at the hands of Arnold.

Various snippets of information are thrown at us in flashback, dealing with Wayne and Eileen’s relationship among other things. This is pure characterization almost, yet it’s quite interesting to watch. The reactions of the characters given their situation go along way to providing the necessary base in which to conduct the thriller aspect of the narrative. And thanks to the leading trio what we get here is top quality.

Redford, looking world weary, still has what it takes to pull off a character such as Wayne. Watching the banter between him and Arnold is one of the better moments in the film, if only because the pair are so good. Dafoe pulls off the whole nerdy-villain persona exceptionally well, even though neither of the men are at their peak here. Helen Mirren coasts through the film quite comfortably, but in the hands of a lesser actress Eileen would just come across as another teary-eyed potential widow.

Clearing, The
The drawback of the film lies squarely in the script. There’s just not enough of the thriller aspect to keep audiences on the edge of their seat, save for the deftly constructed final act. The drama elements fall flat because we are constantly changing from the house to the kidnap location. And there isn’t enough in the story to keep us interested apart from seeing Redford and Defoe go head to head. In short, there’s just nothing much to it.

That said, the sheer screen presence of the three leads makes this one quite watchable. The film has come under some heavy scrutiny in reviewing circles for being quite bland overall. It may be correct but there’s still enough in the film (going by the names of Redford, Dafoe and Mirren) to suffice. The film never pretends to be anything more than your basic kidnapping drama, so in that sense there is some appeal here for casual viewers.

This is an interesting one. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen but leaves a lot to be desired. Daytime scenes come up well, with the sharpness probably not what it should be. Colours are slightly muted, though there aren’t many brightly coloured costumes or locations to really test the vibrancy out. It is in the final act where the disappointment really kicks in. The night time scene exhibits an incredible amount of grain, almost akin to a VHS dump. Different shots show varying amounts of grain also, which doesn’t help keep you in the moment at the film’s most intense point. This is a complete surprise but can’t be overlooked. An incredible disappointment for a modern release, that’s for sure.

The disc fares a little better in the audio department, thankfully. Accompanying the release is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix which does the job quite well. Ambient sounds are bounced around the rears, along with the subtle score from Craig Armstrong. Most of the action occurs in the front stage but always keeps the dialogue clear. Subwoofer action is minimal, though the bass levels did seem a little odd here and there. For the most part, however, you won’t find any problems in the audio mix.

Clearing, The
Only a small extras package has been assembled for this release, but there are a couple of quality pieces to keep you interested. First up is the commentary track from director Pieter Jan Brugge, writer Justin Haythe and editor Kevin Tent. This is a very interesting track (accompanied by a subtitle stream for added value), with the trio going through the theory behind the concurrent storylines, some of the motivations in the script and they way they pieced the narrative together. Well worth a listen for fans of the film or the actors.

The other major extra is a deleted scenes package. There are six scenes in all, each accompanied by a commentary from the three men who we heard in the main track. They vary in terms of their purpose, but all are quite interesting to watch. The trio discuss why the scenes were cut, with most of them left out for pacing and time reasons.

The only other extras are the script, which seems quite unnecessary given you can almost always jump on the net to have a read (who reads bunches of text from your TV anyway?) and a weblink to the Australian Fox movies site. It may be a small package but the commentary track and deleted scenes are actually quite good.

Clearing, The
This film was never going to be at all startling. If left in the hands of lesser actors it may well have been an absolute disaster, but the screen presence of Redford, Dafoe and Mirren lifts this one just above average. The disc itself features an incredibly disappointing video transfer, an adequate audio mix and a couple of worthwhile extras. For the right price you may wish to pick this one up. Those in doubt should seek a rental first up.