Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Nicole Kassell
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Benjamin Bratt, Mos Def, Eve, David Allan Grier.
Most films dealing with child molesters and paedophiles usually demonise such characters and treat them as monsters and unrepentant predators. So it is unusual, and very surprising, to find a film brave enough to treat such a character in a sympathetic light. That this provocative and potentially controversial film works so well is due in large measure to the compelling performance from Kevin Bacon, an often under-appreciated actor who delivers one of his best performances here.
Bacon plays Walter, who has just been released back into his community after serving a twelve-year prison sentence. He moves into a small apartment across the road from a school playground. As he undergoes compulsory therapy sessions, he also wrestles with his own personal demons, and is encouraged to document his thoughts in a journal. As he watches the playground he observes another child molester surveying the territory while he chooses his next victim, and we get some insight into the motivations and drives of such a character. He also lands a job at the local sawmill, and settles into an uneasy relationship with Vickie, a tough talking fork lift driver at the mill (played by Bacon’s real-life wife Kyra Sedgwick), who is also something of a loner.
But suspicion and mistrust colours many of his relationships, especially with his family. His brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt) tries to maintain a peace between Walter and his estranged sister, who refuses to let him visit her house or see his niece. Then there is his distrustful police officer (rapper turned actor Mos Def, currently seen in the big screen adaptation of the cult classic Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), and a jealous secretary (Eve), who soon distributes leaflets among colleagues detailing Walter’s prison record after he spurns her sexual advances. An even more creepy moment develops when Walter develops a friendship with a young girl in the park, who seems all to keen to share intimate secrets with him.
The Woodsman is a challenging and daring film, and is an assured first feature film from Nicole Kassell, who directs with restraint. Working from a treatment based on a play by Stephen Fechter, The Woodsman works superbly, and never descends into cheap melodrama or hysteria. This is an effectively handled psychological drama, and a sensitive and intelligent handling of difficult subject matter, which may not be to everyone’s taste. Kassell works in close-up, which allows us to see the subtle nuances of Bacon’s largely internal and quietly controlled performance – his haunted visage and body movements convey his internal struggle as he wrestles with his personal demons and fear of his past being exposed. The ensemble cast all deliver strong performances that further enriches the material.