Woodsman (2004) – movie review

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Movie Review by Neils Hesse

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Mos Def, Eve, David Alan Grier

Director: Nicole Kassell

If you asked most people what the worst thing that they had done was, they would probably say that it was lying about something or sleeping with someone else’s partner. Well for Walter (Kevin Bacon) the answer to that question is far from easy. He is fresh out of prison from where he has spent the last 12 years of his life on paedophile charges. Life on the outside starts out promisingly enough for him as he gets his old job back, his brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt) visits him occasionally and he starts seeing a woman he has met at work called Vicki (Kyra Sedgwick). So on the surface it all seems fine.

As fate would have it though the only apartment he could find just happens to be about 300 feet from a children’s school. Then a cynical overbearing police officer with a particular distaste to people with Walter’s past starts to pop by unannounced every now and then just to let him know that his every move is being monitored. In addition to this Walter notices a man waiting outside the school on a daily basis for young boys.

Continuing with his treatment Walter goes to see a therapist once a week and he persistently asks “When will I be normal?”. Then one day on the bus Walter notices a young girl and instinctively talks to her and discovers a place that she frequents. Meanwhile a nosy secretary at work discovers his dark secret and spreads the news around. Walter’s fragile grip on normality begins to disintegrate with the combination of the interfering cop and his increasingly uncomfortable situation at work, which drive him to an almost inevitable situation.

While a student at NYU in 2000 Nicole Kassell heard a reading of a play called ‘The Woodsman’ which left an indelible impression on her to the extent that she wrote a preliminary draft screenplay and shared it with the playwright Steven Fechter. This persuaded him to work with her on a screenplay for a feature film version which she went onto direct as well. Kassell does a remarkably good job with this very sensitive subject matter. It is a very well written story with good character development and a suitably involving soundtrack.

Kevin Bacon is astonishing in his role, completely believable as someone who just wants to have a normal life but at the same time can’t resist his urges and feelings. A standout and disturbing scene that also proves to be a turning point in the movie has him seated on a bench with an 11 year-old girl, as he asks her to sit on his lap. It is a very daring and difficult role as the character has to evoke some sort of empathy or interest from the audience, in order for the film to work. Kevin manages to be this person who has done such horrible things and may indeed do them again yet still manages to possess a sense of humanity about him. Diversely in another scene he beats another paedophile to a bloody pulp! A remarkable performance.

Mos Def proves that his skills transcend his rapping ability, his performance as a cop who despises people like Walter is as they say in the world of hip pop very, very real which in the movie world translates as compelling. The rest of the supporting cast all put in some good work as well.

Covering a very difficult subject matter, the film shows paedophiles look just like anyone else. Still it isn’t exactly a crowd pleaser but it is a very well done movie.

4 out of 6 stars