A/V Room









The Woodsman (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

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. Region 0.

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 apply.

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