The Woodsman (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner01/11/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 85 mins

Thought-provoking and moving, this is an assured debut from first time writer-director Nicole Kassell, with a terrific, Oscar-worthy performance by Kevin Bacon.

The Woodsman is adapted from the play by Stephen Fechter, who co-wrote the film with first time writer-director Nicole Kassell. Its controversial subject matter brought it a lot of attention at this year’s Sundance film festival and it’s sure to attract a few headlines here when it opens next February, after playing at the London Film Festival.

However, though the material may be uncomfortable, it’s an incredibly assured debut that marks Kassell out as a talent to watch, thanks to an exceptional performance by Kevin Bacon.

Convicted Paedophile Attempts Solo Rehabilitation

Kevin Bacon (who was also the film’s executive producer) plays Walter, a convicted paedophile who gets released from prison after a 12 year sentence and attempts to rehabilitate himself. Set up with a job in a lumber yard he tries to keep himself to himself, but finds himself drawn into a relationship with Vickie (Bacon’s real-life wife, Kyra Sedgewick), a tough-talking co-worker.

He also tries to make contact with his estranged sister, via his sympathetic brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt) while being hounded by a police detective (Mos Def), who is understandably suspicious as to why Walter has chosen an apartment with a view of a neighbouring playground.

Bacon At Career Best

Bacon is superb, giving a career best performance that is both heart-breaking and unnerving, particularly in a scene where Walter is being interviewed by a psychologist (Michael Shannon) and Kassell shoots the entire scene as a close-up of Bacon’s intensely staring face. Throughout the film Bacon brilliantly captures a man constantly struggling with desires that he knows to be wrong, culminating in the film’s most powerful scene, an encounter with a young girl on a park bench.

The supporting cast are also excellent, particularly Sedgewick, whose hard-bitten exterior gradually reveals a more vulnerable side and Mos Def, whose air of subtle menace makes a memorable impact in a relatively small role. Also notable are David Alan Grier, as the lumber yard boss and hip-hop star Eve in a splendidly bitchy turn as a gossipy colleague who feels she’s been slighted by Walter.

Kassell’s direction is extremely confident, particularly in her handling of the more sensitive scenes. She also ensures that the film never veers into outright melodrama, as well as adding several smaller, effective touches, such as the telling use of a single flash-frame and a symbolic dream / flashback sequence that goes teasingly unexplored.

The Woodsman is a courageous film that demands to be seen, not least for Bacon’s astonishing performance – frankly, if he gets passed over come Oscar time it’ll be nothing short of a crime. In short, this is an early contender for one of the best films of 2005. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 23/04/2019 17:20

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