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The Woodsman
2004 - R - 87 Mins.
Director: Nicole Kassell
Producer: Lee Daniels
Written By: Steven Fechter
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Mos Def, Hannah Pilkes, David Alan Grier
Review by: Jennie Kermode
Official Site:
In one of the year's most thoughtful and controversial films, Kevin Bacon plays Walter, a child molester released back into the community after serving a twelve year prison sentence. Desperate not to end up back inside, he hopes to find a 'cure' for his attraction to pre-pubescent girls. The film follows his progress as he struggles with temptation, the prejudice of others, and his own internalised anger, gradually approaching the realisation that the only person who can change his behaviour is himself. Of course, before he can achieve that, he must face up to the full horror of what he has done.

‘The Woodsman’ is a difficult film to watch, and not just because of its subject matter. Bacon's tense, agonized performance makes it as difficult for the viewer to get close to him as it is for Kyra Sedgwick's Vickie, the woman with whom he might have the chance of a normal life. Vickie has a difficult past of her own, and seems to recognise a kindred spirit in this damaged man, but the film is never overly sympathetic to him, maintaining a painful awareness of what he has done and might do again. There to remind us of this is parole supervisor Sergeant Lucas, whose upfront antagonism conceals a sharp intellect and a complex psychological initiative. As Lucas, former hip hop star Mos Def is a revelation, turning in a powerful, confident performance which outshines everything else in the film. He provides the perfect antidote to Walter's repression and helps to keep in perspective the fact that there is a wider world out there, the world which Walter is striving to reach.

‘The Woodsman’ has been criticised for the number of incidents of pedophilia which it references, giving the impression that adults can never be trusted with children. This seems to be a misunderstanding with regard to the fact that so much of the story is seen from Walter's perspective, and Walter naturally finds it difficult to accept that others don't share his attractions, or that they might choose not to act on them. One of the difficulties in telling a story of this type is, of course, demonstrating the pedophile's attraction without sexualising children from the perspective of the viewer. This is impressively handled. We see pretty children and children in miniature copies of what, on adults, would be flirtatious clothing; yet they are always portrayed as children, human and vulnerable. Hannah Pilkes is particularly good as the lonely young Robin whose encounter with Walter marks a pivotal point in the film.

The titular woodsman, besides being a reference to Walter's work in a lumber yard and fondness for building furniture, is a character from the fairytale ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ the man who cuts the wolf open and saves the young heroine even after she has been eaten. In a film shot through with related symbolism, the point seems to be that there is nothing Walter can do to undo his past crimes; for him, there is no simple path to redemption. This is a complex and humane film which never pretends to have all the answers. It raises its fair share of mysteries regarding how people relate to one another. Without ever asking the audience to forgive the crimes of its protagonist, it challenges us to acknowledge him as a human being, with all that entails for him and for ourselves.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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