After twelve years in prison, Walter arrives in an unnamed city, moves into a small apartment across the street from an elementary school, gets a job at a lumberyard, and mostly keeps to himself. A quiet, guarded man, Walter finds unexpected solace from Vickie, a tough-talking woman who promises not to judge him for his history. But Walter cannot escape his past. A convicted sex offender, Walter is warily eyed by his brother-in-law, shunned by his sister, lives in fear of being discovered at work, and is hounded by a suspicious local police officer, Detective Lucas. After befriending a young girl in a neighborhood park, Walter must also grapple with the terrible prospect of his own reawakened demons.
Sujit R. Varma
User Reviews: THE WOODSMAN (2004) ***1/2 Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, David Alan Grier, Eve, Benjamin Bratt, Mos Def, Hannah Pilkes.
Sympathy For The Devil: Bacon’s best performance to date
Kevin Bacon has always been one of my favorite actors and constantly proves to be such a truly exceptional one at that. In his latest as a recently paroled convicted pedophile he gives the performance of his career that should entitle him to his first Academy Award nomination (long overdue).
Walter (Bacon) is an ex-con attempting to begin a normal life after being incarcerated for molesting several young girls. What seems to be a large task at hand only proves to be increasingly difficult for a variety of reasons including the fact his apartment is just out of reach of the mandated length he cannot be within the distance of a school which rests tauntingly like a diabetic a candy factory directly across the street where he now lives. This is a test he rationalizes and reports this discovery and others to his appointed therapy sessions with a psychiatrist which only makes Walter increasingly uncomfortable as the good doctor suggests he keep a journal and reflect on what he has done (or worse what he may do).
Getting a job as a factory worker in his run-down Philly suburb Walter keeps to himself especially from the slyly sexy Mary-Kay (rapper Eve) who has other plans for the newcomer and instead is befriended by the tomboyish yet open-minded Vickie (Bacon’s real-life wife Sedgwick also giving a career high performance with just the right amount of fronting toughness and vulnerable empathy when she beds and eventually discovers Walter’s burning secrets.
All of the proceedings lead to a keg of explosive ramifications as Walter tries desperately to walk the straight and narrow but it isn’t helping matters as the deck is stacked against him in the form of police Sgt. Lucas (rap star Mos Def in the Walter Matthau role) dogging Walter as a likely suspect in rash of recent child molestings. Sooner or later Walter is going to return to his old form. Or so it seems.
Bacon is truly amazing in his implosive turn as a man so at odds with being in his own skin it threatens to suffocate him in his vein gestures at becoming ‘normal’ and his body language suggests a crumbling man of sand about to blow away in the winds of society. His pained, grimace of accepting his sickness only curdles his well intended desire to shirk his monstrous past but will not embrace the touchy-feely psycho-babble that he must endure to delve into his childhood as perhaps the key to his perversities.
Smartly directed by newcomer Nicole Kassel who co-scripted the usually on-target screenplay with Steven Fechter (they bungle it when Walter’s play-by-play inner monologue of a perceived local molester makes a mark outside his window is a tad uneasy) wisely allows her character just enough rope to hang himself before reeling himself back to square one. There is a nice interplay of just the right amount of nervous tension between Bacon’s Walter and a little girl named Robin (perfectly played by Pilkes) he espies one day and follows into a local park .
Bacon is a journeyman character actor trapped in a leading man’s body but has what so few of his contemporaries do : moxy, talent and the chops to tackle a taboo subject without being exploitative. That is the true skill of a marksman and that is truly what Bacon is.