Worth A Look: 44.44%
Pretty Bad: 8.64%
Total Crap: 0%
9 reviews, 27 user ratings
by Stephen Groenewegen
There’s a couple of accomplished scenes in the American independent feature The Woodsman that mark first-timer Nicole Kassell as a director to watch.In one, Walter (Kevin Bacon) responds to questioning from his state-assigned therapist. He talks, with tears welling in his eyes, about the pleasure he received from smelling his younger sister’s hair when he was six. In the film’s tensest scene, Walter stares down temptation in the form of an 11 year-old girl (Hannah Pilkes) who is bird watching on a park bench.
"Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?"
Walter is on supervised parole after spending 12 years in prison for “molesting little girls” between the ages of 10 and 12. Ironically, his sparse apartment looks onto the playground of the local grade school. This isn’t Walter’s choice – he’s trying to stay out of trouble’s way – but no other landlord would take him. His brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt) is the only family member who’ll speak to him, and he keeps to himself at his new job at the lumberyard. Walter’s encounter with two contrasting people sees the start of change in his life. Tough-as-nails forklift driver Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick) invites herself into his bed, and Sergeant Lucas (Mos Def) starts harassing him at his home.
Kassell co-wrote The Woodsman with Steven Fechter, based on his play. Walter’s apartment must have been the main set on stage, because advancement of the plot frequently relies on someone knocking at Walter’s door. Bacon executive produced and his understated performance is the centrepiece of the film.
Thin-lipped and unsmiling, with clenched jaw and hands permanently in pockets, he keeps his eyes averted when he walks the streets. Walter doesn’t look at home anywhere, least of all in his bland apartment. “When will I be normal?” he demands of his therapist in deep, gravelled tones. It’s a twitchy, buttoned-down performance, and I initially feared the worst – that The Woodsman would take sober glee in punishing its audience with a monotonously heavy approach to a difficult issue.
Instead, the film is low-key rather than downbeat. Thankfully, there is sufficient variation in Bacon’s features to preclude a one-note performance – we witness clearly how Walter is transformed by the people he encounters. Benjamin Bratt seemed too starry to be playing Walter’s brother-in-law, but there’s fine naturalistic support from Sedgwick (Bacon’s real-life partner), Def and Eve as a secretary at the lumberyard.The title comes from Little Red Riding Hood and some blatantly obvious symbolism comes close to spoiling the delicacy of the afore-mentioned park scene. You may find elements of The Woodsman confronting or disturbing. Ultimately, Kassell is telling a simple human story that prompts you to look into the eyes of a person that society would rather see locked away forever.
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originally posted: 06/16/04 12:00:16
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