The Clearing

The Clearing is a film about a kidnapping, focusing on the effects of the crime on the victim, his family, as well as the criminal. There are flashbacks as well as short cuts back and forth between the nonlinear sequence of events in the crime as well as the impact on the family. Some five or six years ago, Wayne Hayes (played by Robert Redford), a successful business executive, built a mansion for his beloved wife Eileen (played by Helen Mirren) in the nice part of Pittsburgh, presumably as a way of telling her that he was sorry for cheating on her by having an affair with one of his employees. Although he promised to fire her and never see her again, the relationship between the couple was never the same. One day he drives to work, but he gets out of his car to pick up a copy of the Wall Street Journal that has been planted in his driveway by Arnold Mack (played by Willem Dafoe), a former employee who was also let go some fifteen years earlier. Arnold has planned an elaborate scheme to kidnap Wayne and then extract a ransom of $10.5 million dollars. Whereas Wayne lives comfortably, dealing only with a midlife crisis, Arnold lives on the other side of the tracks in a home with his wife’s father. His wife’s father, who is nearly deaf and often falls asleep in the room adjacent to the couple’s bedroom with the television volume turned loud, thus depriving them of a good night’s sleep. His wife is the breadwinner, giving Arnold the time to take pictures of Eileen and to learn Wayne’s habits, including tracking him down at the apartment of his girlfriend, Louise Miller (played by Wendy Crewson). Accordingly, with the aid of a pistol, Arnold forces Wayne into the woods (the filming in somewhere in Georgia), handcuffed, pretending that he has been hired by someone else whom they will meet at a mountain cabin. En route, the two men become better acquainted. Wayne takes advantage of Arnold’s inattention on one occasion to choke him, but he does not have the courage to make sure that he has really killed him. Arnold taperecords Wayne so that he has a voice to offer over the telephone to prove that he is still alive in order to assure that he will collect the ransom. Meanwhile, Eileen is distressed; she summons the FBI, her son Tim (played by Alessandro Nivola), and her daughter Jill (played by Melissa Sagemiller), and she even visits Wayne’s girlfriend Louise. FBI agent Ray Fuller (played by Matt Craven) follows a procedure that will assure that the culprit will be caught, though he cannot promise that Wayne will stay alive. Clues abound about the outcome of the story, and filmviewers are supposed to figure out what happens in the end. However, American movie audiences may not understand that The Clearing, directed by Pieter Jan Brugge, presents a flawed picture of the class struggle. A poor man, who needs a job to have self-respect, tries to get revenge on corporation executives in general by focusing on the one who, once upon a time, anonymously fired him to assure maximum company profit, but does not see his action in the larger context. MH

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