[box cover]

The Woodsman

Kevin Bacon's performance as a pedophile in The Woodsman (2004) is the sort that tends to get labeled as "brave" (Liz Smith, New York Post) and "courageous" (Lynn Hirschberg, New York Times Magazine) — and then, in an instant 21st-century backlash, lampooned by online snark sheets (Defamer, Gawker) as overpraised, Oscar-baiting career suicide. But all of this seems a bit beside the point; "bravery" and artistry are two entirely different animals. How's Bacon? How's the movie? Yes, Nicole Kassell's adaptation of Steven Fechter's play is provocative, inasmuch as it tries to generate sympathy for the devil: The Woodsman's protagonist is, after all, a man coming off a 12-year prison stint who struggles with his continuing desire to molest young girls. But the best thing about Bacon's performance isn't his "courage"; it's his directness. Rather than diving too deeply into angst, evil, or some other form of bathos that would have tempted a showier actor, Bacon has taken the William H. Macy route with his performance — his Walter Rossworth is, initially, something of a blank: shuttered, unadorned, and, in a cold way, unapologetic for his crimes. When his therapist tells him to keep a journal, he declines for a one-word reason: "Evidence." After he gets out of prison and takes a job at a lumber yard, he sleeps with a fellow employee (Kyra Sedgwick) and, after some hesitation, reveals his crimes. It's telling that he never says he's sorry; instead, he says, "I always asked them how old they were. I never hurt them. Never." (After he shows her the door, his biggest external dilemma is whether or not to put his hands in his pockets.) Bacon's minimalist approach allows morality and remorse to creep out of Walter in tiny hints throughout the film, and it makes the later scenes where he stalks a young bird-watcher (Hannah Pilkes) all the more harrowing. It's a shame the rest of the movie isn't as subtle. The screenplay (by Kassell and Fechter) is, ultimately, a coincidence-driven melodrama — Walter just happensto get an apartment across from a grade-school; there just happens to be another pedophile (Kevin Rice) staking out that playground; Sedgwick's character just happens to have a past that justifies her ongoing relationship with Walter; characters played by solid actors (including Mos Def and Benjamin Bratt) just happen to fit into tidy thematic slots that suggest a redemption arc for Walter. Even worse, characters often speak in a meaning-choked stage-play patois that includes such groaners as, "By going in circles, we find things we missed the first time around." This, combined with a few too many shots of Walter's endless, monochromatic brooding on buses and in dusky rooms, means Bacon's mature performance serves a story that's considerably less sophisticated than he is — making The Woodsman less "brave" and more a slightly better-made Movie of the Week. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of the Newmarket Films title offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a commentary track from director Nicole Kassell, the behind-the-scenes featurette "Getting it Made" (5 min.), three deleted/extended scenes, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
M.E. Russell



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