After 12 years in prison, Walter (Kevin Bacon) returns to his home town on parole, and gets a job at the timber yard, but only as a gesture of honour to his much loved father. Withdrawn and hurt, Walter lives a guarded life, aware that as a convicted sex offender he is a social outcast, shunned even by his sister. An outwardly tough-as-boots workmate, Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick) warms to him - and stays on despite learning his "terrible secret" - but Walter remains wary, conflicted by his demons. At his regular counselling sessions, he asks, "When will I be normal?" His counsellor (David Alan Grier) can give no answer, but when he befriends 12 year old Robin (Hannah Pilkes) in the park, his old demons return to taunt and haunt him.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Seeing this film just days after the arrest of hundreds of pedophiles across Australia creates special layers of complexity in how to respond to it on a moral and emotional level. That's because Kevin Bacon paints such a tangible, harrowingly pitiable character in Walter, and his crimes are cushioned by a believable disclaimer that he "never hurt any of them" - referring to the 10 - 12 year old girls he molested.
His contrite and self-hating Walter draws our sympathy, and even empathy of sorts, as he tortures himself on the road to a new start in life. Will he ever manage it. Will he ever be normal, he asks of his counsellor, who cannot say. "What is normal to you?" he asks in return, and Walter reveals he knows exactly what normal is, in terms of his sexual illness: not to be drawn to young girls sexually. This is the first sign that he has the insight to admit the nature of his demons.
When he later admits he lay down for afternoon naps with his sister as a kid, but only smelt her hair, he also opens up the abyss of human sexuality; how are we to understand the full extent of this mysterious force, which has so many facets, nuances and manifestations. It is the film's ability to tread this fine line between condoning and understanding Walter which makes it so powerful and so haunting. And so successful as human drama of the first order.
It's a detailed study of a man's most troubled weakness, manifest as one of the great taboos of society, yet the least understood. And it is beautifully made, with a sombre mood which is pitched to perfection. Mos Def is superb as the crusading and suspicious but low-key cop watching his every move, Eve as Mary-Kay is marvellous in a small but crucial role, and Kyra Sedgwick makes Vicky a complete and real person. When Vicky sits on Walter's lap in the latter stage of the film, in a provocatively sexual way, it is like a redemptive act which is meant to whet Walter's new appetites, shifting from little girls to big girls. It echoes his earlier attempt to have little Robin sit on his lap on a park bench - one of the film's most intense secenes.
Nicole Kassell's flawless direction from a superb screenplay and the remarkable performances of the cast ensure that this is a work of lasting value.
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WOODSMAN, THE (MA)
CAST: Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Eve, Mos Def, David Alan Grier, Benjamin Bratt, Kevin Rice, Michael Shannon,
PRODUCER: Lee Daniels
DIRECTOR: Nicole Kassell
SCRIPT: Steven Fechter, Nicole Kassell
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Xavier Perez Grobet
EDITOR: Lisa Fruchtman, Brian A. Kates
MUSIC: Nathan Larson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephen Beatrice
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 5, 2005