Directed by Nicole Kassell. Starring Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Mos Def, Benjamin Bratt, David Alan Grier, Eve. (2004, R, 87 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 14, 2005
Writer-director Nicole Kassell’s debut film is a lean drama anchored by subject matter which, although difficult, remains distantly disquieting yet never challenging. Bacon delivers a carefully measured performance as a child molester who has just been released from prison after serving 12 years for his felonious conduct with a young girl. Based on a play by Steven Fechter, The Woodsman charts the path of Walter’s arduous reintegration into society. His sister rejects him and refuses to see Walter, although his brother-in-law (Bratt) occasionally stops by Walter’s spare apartment to show some familial concern. In addition to his parole officer, there is also the watchful eye of a local detective (Mos Def, in a strong performance), who shows up at Walter’s door from time to time. A proficient carpenter, Walter lands a job at a local lumberyard, where he meets the fearless forklift driver Vickie (Sedgwick). She’s a take-no-guff kind of gal, comfortable working around the male employees, and soon takes a shine to taciturn Walter. The primary problem with The Woodsman, in fact, is Walter’s quietness. Bacon plays Walter as bottled-up loner, and as such it’s impossible to know what’s going on in his head. We watch him as he silently sits on the bus going to work and wonder what he’s thinking as he observes the other passengers, or when he looks out his apartment window at the playground below. In another scene he sits on a park bench with a young girl and we wonder if Walter will succumb to his demons, but we never actually witness his interior struggles. It may be a survival instinct that keeps these demons so buried from view, however it creates an uninteresting screen character who has no inner life. At many points, the action in The Woodsman seems strained or implausible (Vickie’s unequivocal acceptance of Walter is the standout here), but we’re willing to go along with the implausibilities because of the expectation of learning something about the compulsions of a child molester. We simply do not learn enough about Walter: not his backstory before jail, the presumed struggle with his urges post-jail, nor the impact of his relationship with the adult Vickie on his sexual desire for young girls. The Woodsman is a psychological drama that has no psychology. You can tell that everyone’s whole heart is in this project, you just wish that a little more of the heart was conveyed on the screen.