Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interviews with Kevin Bacon, Kyra
Sedgwick, director Nicole Kassell and producer Damon Dash. Sundance
Channel documentary. Q & A with Nathan Larson. Film notes.
IN TERMS of risk-taking, Kevin Bacon has taken the gamble of
his career in opting to portray a paedophile trying to put his
life back together after spending 12 years in prison.
Yet it's a gutsy decision that pays off handsomely, providing
the under-rated actor with the role of his career, not to mention
a thought-provoking film to boot.
Based on a play by Steven Fechter, The Woodsman emerges as a
challenging and frequently compelling experience from first-time
director, Nicole Kassell, that tackles a difficult issue in a
mature and sensitive fashion.
That it exists in a moral grey zone only makes it more worthy,
neatly side-stepping the easy option of being judgemental and
forcing the viewer to form their own opinion.
Some might argue that Bacon's portrayal is far too comfortable
for its own good, and that a paedophile/child molester should
never be sympathised with as they are simply monsters beyond redemption.
And it's certainly worthy of consideration that depicting the
humanity of some of society's worst offenders is a dangerous direction
for entertainment to take.
But then serial killers have emerged as movie heroes in recent
years (most notably in the form of Hannibal Lecter), and several
new films have attempted to explore the humanity in Hitler (The
Downfall, Max). Is this any better?
It's a debate worthy of numerous pub and dinner-table conversations
and one which is sure to be fired by The Woodsman.
Yet to dismiss it merely as offensive
for daring to treat a paedophile as a person would be missing
the point entirely.
Had the film been voyeuristic or exploitative then it would rightly
have been derided, but given the acclaim surrounding the project
it is worthy of audience attention.
Bacon plays Walter who emerges from prison after 12 years for
molesting young girls, determined to make a new start in life.
He takes a job at a Philly lumberyard and rents an apartment
overlooking a school but finds his past difficult to escape from.
Reluctantly, he begins an unlikely relationship with a co-worker
(Kyra Sedgwick's Vickie), but is troubled by the constant harrassment
of a dedicated cop (Mos Def, on blistering form), as well as numerous
visits from his sister's husband (Benjamin Bratt).
What's more, he begins to suspect that another paedophile is
operating in the area, but is powerless to do anything to intervene.
Unwisely, he befriends a young girl in a park, forming a relationship
that will put his newfound resolve to the ultimate test - can
a person ever reform when society dictates that they can't?
The pivotal scene, in which Bacon asks the young girl in question
to sit on his lap, is agonising in the extreme, yet singularly
sums up the power of the movie.
In acting terms, Bacon expertly captures the mix of self-loathing
and sexual desire that define his character, pushing the viewer
this way and that while all the time making them feel uncomfortable.
What emerges from the scene is both surprising and thought-provoking,
much like the rest of the film itself.
It comes highly recommended and is a must-see for anyone who
likes to be challenged by their viewing. Closed minds need not