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Woodsman, The

Reviewed By Chris Wilson
Posted 06/14/05 10:21:14

"So much creepier than any horror movie coming out of Japan!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Like many good films, The Woodsman is far from enjoyable. Itís engrossing and challenging but by no means a pleasant experience. This makes it a difficult movie to recommend. Itís not about the victim of a crime but about the perpetrator. The story is slow and the plot has implausibilities but the acting is astounding. The Woodsman is for those who enjoy a difficult film.

The Woodsman, besides thoroughly troubling me, reminded me of something very important. Good acting can truly carry a film. Kevin Bacon is astonishing and unsettling as recently released child molester Walter. After spending 12 years in prison, Walter has come back to Philadelphia to begin again. He finds a job, meets a girl and sees a counselor. The basics of an American life. But not everything is going well in Walterís life. Heís harassed by his coworkers and tormented by a renegade cop. His sister wonít speak to him or let him see his young niece. On top of this, Walter finds himself continually slipping toward his old ways.

Not just Kevin Bacon deserves recognition. All the actors inhabit their roles to such a degree that I could forget about their real life counterparts entirely and concentrate on the character each had become. Mos Def is enthralling and intimidating as the rogue cop waiting for Walter to fail. Baconís real life wife Kyra Sedgwick plays his on-screen love interest, a hardened and world weary woman. Benjamin Bratt gives a good turn as Walterís friend and brother-in-law as does David Alan Grier as Walterís boss. By far the most memorable character was played by newcomer Hannah Pilkes as a young girl Walter is drawn to.

The implausible parts are the real shortcoming of the film. Walter lives exactly 320 steps away from a middle school, 20 steps beyond the limit he can live near young children. This is supposedly the only apartment that will rent to a sex offender. I doubt it. Several characters reactions to Walter, both positive and negative, are also not fleshed out enough to be believable. Walterís boss stands up for him, telling his employees that if anyone has a problem working with a sex offender that they can resign. While admirable, the audience isnít given any motive behind the ultimatum, making it less than convincing. Maybe the reason is that Walterís boss is such a nice guy that heíll stand up for anyone, including sex offenders. Maybe he just believes in second chances. Whatever the reason, the audience should know it.

In fact, sympathy is one of the biggest points of contention in the film. Does it give too much to a convicted sex offender? Or is Walter completely unsympathetic because of his actions? This is definitely debatable, but in my mind both are off target. Walter is denied a large amount of sympathy because his character lacks any back story. We know very little of what led to his pedophilia. This seemed a very intentional choice by writer / director Nicole Kassell for the very reason of leaving him without the sympathy of explanation. The only sympathy the audience is meant to feel toward Walter is when he is treated harshly by those around him. And this can only translate to sympathy because Walter genuinely wants to fight his compulsion.

By no means flawless, The Woodsman is worthwhile for those willing to be frustrated. A bad story would have ended the story with Walter Ďcuredí of his Ďdiseaseí and living a happy life free from his temptation. A mediocre movie would simply have made Walter into the embodiment of evil. Thankfully, The Woodsman takes a more nuanced and complicated route.

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