felt for a long time that Kevin Bacon was one of the most overlooked actors
in the movies. He is willing to do anything, play any type of
character, without concern about his reputation or image.
Well, his work in The Woodsman takes it to an entirely different
level. This is a role that no other actor would be willing to take on
because of its controversial subject matter. However, as always, Bacon
submerges himself into the man without judging him. The fact that he
does such a transfixing job of it is even more amazing.
character of Walter is a pedophile who has just gotten out of jail after
spending twelve years behind bars for his actions.
does not try to excuse Walter's crimes, in fact it only
tells us in the very broadest strokes what exactly he did. Even Walter
himself recognizes that what he did was shockingly wrong.
that he has gotten a second chance, he is trying his hardest to get his life
back in order, despite constant roadblocks and temptations.
He lives across the street from a grade school, which I would think would be
a violation of his parole, but he says that it was the only landlord that
would take his money. In living so close to a school, Walter quickly
picks up on a man (Kevin Rice) who spends just too much time outside the
school talking to children and realizes that he is probably also a
pedophile. Walter refers to the man as Candy, because he is always
offering little boys a treat.
Walter's family will not talk to him, with the exception of
his brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt) who tries to broker a reconciliation
with his sister. However, even the brother-in-law only trusts Walter
so far when it comes to their daughter.
part of his rehabilitation, Walter must talk to a psychiatrist and a parole
officer on a regular basis. The psychiatrist believes in Walter,
however Walter feels his methods are too slow and that he will never be
normal. The parole cop (Mos Def) makes no secret about his disgust
towards Walter, daring him to screw up in anyway so that he can get him back
Walter works at a lumber yard, the same job that he had before he went to
jail. He keeps to himself on the job. He doesn't like his work
but it keeps him busy, until a secretary (played by rapper Eve) who he
slighted goes on the internet and finds out about his past. She
spreads the word amongst the co-workers, making the workplace just another
hostile environment for him to get through.
Walter's life starts to take a turn for the better when he meets a tough
woman on the job named Vickie (played by Kyra Sedgwick, who is Bacon's wife
in real life.) Vickie is a bruised soul like Walter, as a child she
was the victim of incest at the hands of her brothers. For a long time
Walter will not tell Vickie his deep dark secret, and when he does they
separate for a while. However, Vickie can't help but feel there is a
basic goodness in Walter that even he does not recognize, so she decides to
help him with his rehabilitation. She does not understand his
compulsion, but she loves him and hopes that with her he will be able to get
However it is always a fight for him. Walter knows what he did was
wrong and that he wants to live his life well, but he is always haunted by
his memories of his past crimes and a restless but relentless urge deep
inside of him. A couple of scenes where Walter nearly gives in to his
urges are spectacularly disturbing, particularly one where he befriends a
little girl birdwatcher in a park and you know that is taking every ounce of
self-control for him to not touch her. In fact, only when he realizes
that she has been being assaulted by her father and how much it upsets her
does he back off completely.
The Woodsman is like one of those character studies from the seventies
like Taxi Driver, A Woman Under the Influence or Carnal Knowledge.
It takes an unflinching look at a very imperfect man and tries to give you
some kind of understanding of him, no matter whether you can respect him or
The Woodsman gives no easy answers. Walter's life is a constant
struggle against his own urges and we can only hope he will be able to
continue to fight off his demons, which is the only way that this material
could be played realistically. This film is not necessarily a fun
thing to watch, and it shouldn't be. It is an attempt to understand
something that to most people is unfathomable. It is trying to shed
some light on a part of the human condition that most people would prefer to
stay in the shadows.
Human drama is not always pretty. The Woodsman tells a
compelling story about a man fighting off his most sinister urges. If
he was an alcoholic or a drug addict, no one would think twice about making
Walter's story. Walter's sickness is one that does not get much
discussion. The Woodsman tries to give the audience some
empathy about what life is like for a man like him, for better or for worse.
For that alone, it is a fearless and important film.
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Posted: January 30, 2005.