The Woodsman

First-time feature filmmaker Nicole Kassell's adaptation of Steven Fechter's play about the mind of a child molester walks a thin line: It elicits empathy for Walter (Kevin Bacon), a smoldering heap of resentment, denial and self-pity just waiting for a spark, without looking for sympathy. Fresh out of jail and trying to reenter the world without reverting...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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First-time feature filmmaker Nicole Kassell's adaptation of Steven Fechter's play about the mind of a child molester walks a thin line: It elicits empathy for Walter (Kevin Bacon), a smoldering heap of resentment, denial and self-pity just waiting for a spark, without looking for sympathy. Fresh out of jail and trying to reenter the world without reverting to his old ways, Walter is still dangerously in thrall to his desires and self-justifications: He never hurt the girls, he insists fiercely, and he's not a baby-raper — he always asked to make sure they were between 10 and 12 years old. But forces conspire against him: The only landlord who'll rent to Walter puts him in an apartment across the street from a grammar school. He's ostracized by his sister and can't visit his ten-year-old niece. His lumberyard coworkers know he's done time, and busybody receptionist Mary-Kay (Eve) makes it her business to find out why. His court-appointed therapist (Michael Shannon) harps on disturbing memories Walter would rather let lie, and a local cop (Mos Def), convinced that leopards don't change their spots, is playing head games. The only good thing in the gloomy morass of Walter's life is Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick), who sticks around even after he's told her everything — but then, Vickie has made her own peace with big bad wolves lurking behind familiar faces. The moment you start to question the prevalence of abusers and victims in Fechter and Kassell's gray, grainy world is the moment you realize how skillfully they've maneuvered you into seeing through Walter's eyes. He's imprisoned by the compulsive ache of his utterly unacceptable desires and imputes them to everyone without ever considering that there might be more than two kinds of people — adults who successfully resist the impulse to molest children and adults who don't — in the world. It looks like predator's intuition when Walter spots a molester (Kevin Rice) outside the schoolyard before the guy's even out of his car, but Walter's gut is dead wrong when it whispers that his brother-in-law Carlos' (Benjamin Bratt) passionate paternal devotion might conceal a darker purpose. Or is it? By the time Walter begins following a vulnerable girl named Robin (Hannah Pilkes), the tension is almost unbearable — when he asks how old she is, it's hard not to flinch. Kassell's visual influences are evident — she's clearly a fan of the down-and-dirty films of the '70s — but the consistently fine performances smooth over the rough patches.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: First-time feature filmmaker Nicole Kassell's adaptation of Steven Fechter's play about the mind of a child molester walks a thin line: It elicits empathy for Walter (Kevin Bacon), a smoldering heap of resentment, denial and self-pity just waiting for a sp… (more)

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