Clearing [2004]

Most thrillers can be judged on their plots, but with The Clearing the plot is only a frame for three excellent performances. The story is driven by the kidnapping of a retired businessman (Robert Redford) by a former disgruntled employee (Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire). But while half of the movie follows these two men as they wend their way towards a cabin in the woods, the other half observes the businessman's wife (Helen Mirren, the Prime Suspect series) as she copes with both the kidnapping and the secrets it accidentally reveals. Redford and Dafoe play a skillful cat and mouse game as each tries to manipulate the other, but the movie's emotional core is Mirren, a superb actress who turns in yet another rich and layered performance. The emphasis on character heightens the suspense, making The Clearing taut and compelling. --Bret Fetzer

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