Worth A Look: 43.9%
Pretty Bad: 9.76%
Total Crap: 0%
9 reviews, 28 user ratings
by Luke Pyzik
You have to admire the backbone it took writer/director Nicole Kassell to make this film and the courage of Kevin Bacon to star in it. Movies about antiheroes are a dime a dozen when the antihero is doing something sexy like heading up a mob family, but when the antihero is guilty of committing one of the last taboos left on Earth, the pool of films discussing the issue is quickly whittled down. In “The Woodsman,” Bacon stars as Walter, a convicted child molester who finds himself living across the street from an elementary school. The movie is not an examination of the psyche of a pedophile, but rather a look into the life of a man who is hated by the world, who hates himself, and who is still tempted by a sickness that consumes him. This is dark stuff, dripping with sadness, dread and hopelessness. A movie willing to look into such a dark place could theoretically work, but while “The Woodsman” is well acted and brave, in the end, it doesn’t leave you having learned much of anything.When we meet Walter, he has just been released from prison after 12 years. His sister, who has a young child, does not want to see him, but his brother-in-law, Carlos (Benjamin Bratt), makes frequent stops by the apartment to visit, have a beer and watch some baseball. The movie has us regard Walter in much the same way Carlos does. We sympathize with him, want him to find some kind of peace and redeem himself, but yet we are quietly suspicious of him, scared of what he is capable of and what we might see him do.
"A really well acted after school special"
Walter finds work in a lumberyard, where he meets and quickly beds co-worker Vicki (Kyra Sedgwick). They begin to date, and soon Walter must decide if he should tell her of his crime. Their relationship is handled with gentle realism, though Vicki’s forgiving nature is a little hard to comprehend. The fact that Bacon and Sedgwick are real life husband and wife doesn’t exactly help the way the relationship works on screen, either. It’s enough that we know there will be the obligatory “angelic woman who finds compassion for the damned” role, but the working knowledge that they are husband and wife, in bed together, takes us out of scenes that require our minds not to drift into thoughts of how different Kevin and Kyra’s New York penthouse must be from Walter’s crappy one bedroom apartment.
Walter is also getting visits from Sergeant Lucas (Mos Def), a policeman haunted by the crimes of repeat offender pedophiles. He comes over to harass Walter, and generally be an asshole, in the hopes of scaring Walter from acting out again. To make matters worse, Walter also sees a potential child molester handing out candy and offering car rides to kids at the grade school. Meanwhile, at work, a secretary named Mary-Kay (Eve) is suspicious of Walter’s past. So now we have the set up for a few threads of suspense. Will Sgt. Lucas’ aggression manifest itself in violence toward Walter? Will the “Candyman” child molester act out? Will Walter stop him? Will Walter be blamed for the “Candyman’s” crimes? Will Mary-Kay learn Walter’s secret? Will he be fired?
The problem is, with all these questions, the 87-minute movie is a little crowded. We’re not so much interested in those questions, because our main concern is if Walter will act out again. He takes notice of a girl on his bus route home, and when she reaches her stop and heads home through an isolated forest preserve, he fantasizes about following her. Kassell is more interested in this too, as Walter’s confrontation with the girl is the climax of the movie. Why then, all the excess plot threads? Why an unnecessary love interest that doesn’t make much sense? Why a rival child molester? And, dear God, why Eve?
The performances are all top notch (well, except for Eve), especially Kevin Bacon, who we all know is a great character actor that just happen to get famous enough to land lead roles. His work as Walter is subtly intense and focused, and he does a remarkable job in being both sympathetic and repulsive, frequently simultaneously. Mos Def is another stand out, who is well on his way to becoming a big star. His versatile abilities, combined with a sort of everyman quality and general aura of nonchalant coolness may take him to Denzel Washington or Tom Hanks size proportions. He’s got those kind of chops.“The Woodsman” is a noble effort that goes wrong somewhere along the way. Maybe I was taken out of the movie because of the Sedgwick/Bacon pairing, or maybe I was distracted by the Candyman and Eve storylines, but by the end, when the focus was finally on what Walter would do in the face of his ultimate temptation, I found myself not caring. The movie asks us to have sympathy for Walter, but it is not an all out plea for better treatment of ex-cons. It wants to realistically focus on the life of Walter, but it is filled with plot contrivances that muddle the story. The film doesn’t seem to be committed to any particular point of view and it isn’t focused enough to make us really care about the result. In the end, it feels a little like a really well acted after school special.
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originally posted: 06/24/05 02:38:13
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