Walter is released back into society after 12 years in prison for molesting 10- to 12-year-old little girls. The only landlord that will take his money rents him an apartment overlooking a playground. He notices a man preying on young boys across the street from his window.
This is the story of “The Woodsman.” While it may seem more than slightly contrived, the film is nonetheless magnificent, far exceeding any of my expectations. It is profound and disturbing, willing to take many risks and never falls flat.
When Walter (Kevin Bacon) gets out of jail, he finds a job at a lumberyard. He is content to go through the daily routine of life and committed to becoming “normal” again. He regularly sees a psychologist and even begins keeping a journal. Vicki (Kyra Sedgwick), a tough woman with her own secrets, begins a relationship with Walter. Life seems to be going smoothly until Walter begins to feel some of his old desires creep up again.
Bacon gives what many have called the performance of his career. He is able to convincingly play the quiet, twisted pedophile and successfully convey the human emotions that he feels. Unfortunately, Bacon is so consistently good that he is often overlooked. Sedgwick, Bacon’s real-life wife, is solid as Vicki. Her character is slightly annoying at the start of the film, but as the two characters become closer and she sheds her hard exterior, she becomes much more accessible. Benjamin Bratt, Mos Def and Eve also give noteworthy, above-average performances.
First-time feature director Nicole Kassell is definitely a filmmaker to watch. Having originally seen “The Woodsman” as a play when she was a graduate student at New York University, Kassell bought the rights to the play from writer Stephen Fechter. She clearly had a vision in her plan to adapt the play into a film, and it seems that she achieved it with great style.
Using jump cuts and fast editing, Kassell keeps the audience on edge. The film is short, just about an hour-and-a-half long, and there is never a wasted scene. Kassell not only tackles a difficult subject, but she also does it with an admirable, artistic flair.
“The Woodsman” is often difficult to watch because of its risky subject matter. Some scenes are almost unbearable to sit through, but not because of any graphic material shown on the screen. Instead, it is what is not there, what is spoken and what the audience can sense that makes the film so disturbing. Pedophilia is one of the most socially condemned conditions, yet it is treated with compassion in the film. It is clear that Walter is capable of doing bad things and he is never glorified. At the same time, he is never made out to be a bad person.
“The Woodsman” is not a scary film, but it is certainly haunting. It challenges the way we feel about others and our capacity to understand and forgive what most would consider unforgivable. “The Woodsman” is a wonderful character study, a stunning piece of art and a truly remarkable film.