‘The Woodsman’ is destined to disturb

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, January 13, 2005 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Well made without being in any way pleasant, “The Woodsman” is a dark little indie that tests an audience’s comfort level. It is a movie about a pedophile.

Not a crime drama, or film about the victims, mind you, but a movie in which the pedophile is the main character.

Kevin Bacon, leached of movie-star appeal, plays Walter, a man just released from 12 years in prison for molesting young girls. He gets a job as a machinist in a factory where nobody but the boss (David Allen Grier) knows about his past.

We learn that he once made hand-crafted furniture, but now Walter lives in a small apartment, barely furnished. Unfortunately, he lives across from a grade school, which adds temptation to his already tortured soul.

Director Nicole Kassell, in her first feature film, takes a hard, cold look at this character. The film is based on a play by Steven Fechter, and the intention seems to be to understand as best as possible the mind of a pedophile.

It is impossible to be sympathetic to Walter, and the movie doesn’t try to urge the viewer toward any kind of false uplift. Kassell and Fechter tell us that most pedophiles relapse into their crimes, and that Walter might or might not be an exception.

At work he meets a tough-talking woman (Kyra Sedgwick, Bacon’s off-screen wife) and begins a sexual relationship with her. If this sounds like too easy an out for Walter, the movie doesn’t offer it as his salvation, and she’s only one of the characters who come into his orbit.

There is also Walter’s breezy brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt), the only member of his family who will talk to him, and a co-worker (Eve) who learns Walter’s identity and wants him gone.

Most arresting is a policeman who appears at Walter’s apartment periodically, like a taunting ghost. He is played by hip-hop artist/actor Mos Def, who gives the kind of original, hugely fascinating performance that makes you want to follow his character through the rest of the film. Mos Def has been in a few movies, “The Italian Job,” for instance, but this performance makes you hope he’ll be a busy actor in the future.

Kevin Bacon has taken offbeat roles in the past, and has even made films that touched on the issue of child abuse before (“Sleepers” and “Mystic River”). He has some fine moments in this one, and probably gets as close to a credible child molester as anybody has since Peter Lorre etched the killer in the classic 1931 “M.”

Bacon’s most chilling scene (and the film’s) has him sharing a park bench with a little girl. There is real, terrible suspense here – not sensationalized, not manipulative, but authentic. “The Woodsman” is a disturbing film I don’t really want to see again.

Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick star in “The Woodsman.”

“The Woodsman” HHH

Good, but …: A hard, cold look at a pedophile, played by Kevin Bacon, released into the world after 12 years in prison. The movie is well made without being in any way pleasant, and has good performances from Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, and Mos Def.

Rated: R rating is for language, violence, nudity.

Now showing: Metro, Uptown.

“The Woodsman” HHH

Good, but …: A hard, cold look at a pedophile, played by Kevin Bacon, released into the world after 12 years in prison. The movie is well made without being in any way pleasant, and has good performances from Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, and Mos Def.

Rated: R rating is for language, violence, nudity.

Now showing: Uptown, Varsity.

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