Lorey Sebastian, Twentieth Century Fox
Helen Mirren plays Eileen Hayes, the emotionally conflicted wife of Robert Redford's businessman character.

Fox Searchlight has done a real disservice to "The Clearing" by deliberately opening the film during the summer as "counter-programming" to the big special-effects extravaganzas and lowbrow comedies that dominate the multiplexes this time of year.

Of course, unlike most other independent films currently trying to make a splash in the big summer-movie pond, this one does have big star power. But it's still doubtful that will help the film overcome such poor timing.

"The Clearing" is a thriller, but it's a deliberate, character-driven film that should probably open in the fall; it's not the kind of quick-paced action picture that draws audiences this time of year.

Robert Redford stars here as Wayne Hayes, an apparently successful businessman who's known for his bargaining and negotiation skills. But he's also under investigation for questionable business dealings, and possibly fraud.

Things take an even worse turn when he's kidnapped by Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe), who claims to be an embittered former co-worker. This leaves Wayne's wife Eileen (Helen Mirren) in a dilemma. Given the mounting evidence of Wayne's infidelities and other questionable actions, she begins to wonder whether he's worth the ransom.

This is a somewhat risky role for Redford, whose character isn't particularly likable. In fact, in some ways, it's almost easier to sympathize with Dafoe's desperate, somewhat pathetic kidnapper.

As good as the performances by both actors are, they pale in comparison to Mirren's emotionally conflicted wife. As always, she's riveting, and her character is what really makes all of this watchable.

The pacing here might be perceived as too slow by audiences expecting something different, but it's quietly effective. And filmmaker Pieter Jan Brugge isn't afraid to leave a few loose ends, which makes the film all the more sinister and unsettling.

"The Clearing" is rated R for scattered use of strong sexual profanity and some frank sexual talk, and some scenes of violence (gunfire, strangulation and some brawling). Running time: 91 minutes.

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