Sundance founder Robert Redford has finally appeared in a Sundance-style drama: earnest, small-scaled, set in some unglamorous patch of America, and not so profound as its makers imagine. To be fair, The Clearing is better than a lot of the films sent into the world with the Sundance imprimatur. This tale of a Pittsburgh businessman’s kidnapping is crisp, nuanced, and very well-acted. Still, the attempt to focus on the social and domestic context of the episode doesn’t yield much more insight than a conventional thriller-oriented approach. Pieter Jan Brugge, a Dutch-born Hollywood movie producer making his directorial debut, begins by contrasting morning rituals on opposite sides of the tracks: Unemployed Arnold (Willem Dafoe) wakes in his lowly home and prepares to meet Wayne (Redford), who’s seen breakfasting with his wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren), by the pool of their suburban estate. Arnold nabs Wayne before the executive even leaves his driveway, and then the two narratives diverge. Eileen summons her adult children (Alessandro Nivola and Melissa Sagemiller), consults with the FBI agent assigned to the case (Matt Craven), and attempts to fulfill Arnold’s demands. These events are crosscut with scenes of Arnold and Wayne in the woods, as the kidnapper leads his victim toward the clearing where, he says, he will turn him over to the abduction’s masterminds. It soon becomes clear that Eileen’s story is not in the same time frame as Wayne’s, and—because Justin Haythe’s script drops enough hints—the outcome is no great surprise. The film’s crux is not the kidnapping, but the character revelations that emerge in the various conversations precipitated by the crime. Redford is subtler than usual, and in a week that also brings Dafoe’s cheesy Spider-Man 2 cameo, it’s nice to see him play a more human, less demonic (and less cadaverous) miscreant. Yet the movie belongs to Mirren, whose reactions range from horror to acceptance to a small measure of satisfaction. If you want to undertake a profound inquiry into the American family, it’s usually a good idea to hire a Brit. —Mark Jenkins