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Film review: Clearcut

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 23 1992 12:00 a.m. MST

After "Dances With Wolves" and "Thunderheart," it appears that Graham Greene has become the movies' politically correct spokesperson. But this time out he's not the wise-cracking, lovable North American Indian who shows the white man the error of his ways. Instead, he's a wise-cracking, mean-spirited North American Indian — actually a trickster spirit in human form — out to punish the white man with terror and torture.

A Canadian film, "Clearcut" is an uneasy blend of North American Indian folklore and "Deliverance," focusing on a mild-mannered attorney (Ron Lea) who, as the film opens, has just lost a major court case. He had filed against a paper mill on behalf of Native Americans whose land is being ravaged. And his anger at the injustice inadvertently conjures up the spirit of Greene, who invokes his revenge on behalf of the earth.

Actually, who — or what — Greene is and where he comes from isn't really very clear most of the way. I had the advantage of being able to read the press kit after seeing the film.

"Clearcut" is an angry film, so angry that it provokes Greene's character to do some despicable things in his self-righteous indignation. The central plot has Greene kidnapping Lea and the paper mill manager (Michael Hogan), taking them deep into the wilderness and torturing both of them — Hogan physically and Lea psychologically — along the way.

Some of this is hard to take, and it isn't tempered by Greene's occasional witty asides. In fact, Greene's powerful screen presence shifts the entire film into a realm of earthy realism (despite the fantasy overtones) that occasionally make the film un-comfortable.

The other performances are good, though — especially Hogan, whose character's charming demeanor hides a very cold heart.

As for the film as a whole, it is well-meaning but ultimately disappointing.

"Clearcut" is rated R for considerable violence and profanity.

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