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Film Studies 101
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Kevin Bacon
Mos Def
Nicole Kassell.
Running Time
87 minutes

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The Woodsman

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Walter (Bacon) is a convicted paedophile who, on being released from prison, is rehoused a stone’s throw from an elementary school. Taking a job at a sawmill, he meets Vicky (Sedgwick), with whom he begins a relationship while coping with both the fear of being revealed and an aggressive supervising cop, Sergeant Lucas (Mos Def).

At first glance you’d be forgiven for wondering what it is with Kevin Bacon and child molesters. Not content with having pursued one as a cop in Mystic River and delivering an admirably unpleasant performance as a child rapist in Sleepers, he returns as yet another kiddie-fiddler in The Woodsman. But Bacon’s performance as Walter, a convicted paedophile just released from prison, is of an entirely different order. And early as it is to be making statements like this, it’s undoubtedly going to be one of the most impressive performances of the year, in one of 2005’s most courageous films.

We shouldn’t be too surprised: he has often been underrated — despite the Robbins/Penn fireworks it was Bacon’s performance that ran away with Mystic River. Here he shows much of that same quiet control. Walter is a study in agonised self-loathing, both aware of the horror of his desires and at times utterly and apparently helplessly in their grip.

An easy watch it certainly is not. Two sequences particularly — both moments in which Walter either deliberately or by accident winds up in temptation’s way

— are excruciating. And for some, the humanising of predatory sex offenders will veer too close to becoming an apologia (it isn’t here). In fact, in numerous Hollywood films paedophiles have become cinematic shorthand for pure, near-pantomimic evil; screenwriters need spend no time or effort exploring their characters, they simply serve plot. It’s convenient and lazy and The Woodsman is a much-needed corrective.

If there is a slight failing, it’s that the screenplay, possibly inevitably, backs off slightly towards the end, delivering if not a flat-packed farrago of redemption and forgiveness, something which nods far enough in that direction to suggest that the possibly more likely outcome would be just too much for audiences to bear.

Nicole Kassell directs her debut with the necessary understatement and support is good from both Kyra Sedgwick and Mos Def as a hostile cop. But it’s Bacon’s astonishing performance — in the midst of what, for the last two decades or so, has become a kind of persistent public hysteria — that is a quiet, challenging and ultimately discomfortingly human voice.

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Average user rating for The Woodsman
Empire Star Rating

Brave work that will strike deep.

I avoided this film over the years because of its controversial subject. A Child molester. Kevin Bacon is a good actor and if he chose to play a risk taking role in a project like this, then it has to have something interesting about the script to get him to sign up, so I reluctantly decided to watch and subsequently wanted to review this film. As well as witnessing extreme ultra violence and brutality, there are films out there that can create an uncomfortable viewing experience that is distre... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bleedingcritic at 21:24, 10 June 2013 | Report This Post

A convicted paedophile is released from prison after 12 years, returning to his old neighbourhood, he tries to rebuild his life while still struggling with the demons which saw him locked up in the 1st place. Quite intense and extremely difficult to watch in certain scenes, this is a very sensitive subject for the movie world to embark on especially when the world see�s these people as despicable human beings. The makers of this film have been very brave in producing this film to show th... More

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Posted by zedphelan at 14:42, 05 February 2011 | Report This Post

Sobering stuff

I'm watching this on Film Four right now, and it's pretty hard hitting viewing. When Kevin Bacon opens up and admits his past it's like being hit in the chest with a freight train. ... More

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Posted by Hood_Man at 02:34, 07 July 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Brilliance

Finally caught this last night and I have to say I couldn't take my eyes off Kevin Bacon, he was absolutely amazing, haunting and sympathetic at the same time. ... More

Posted by Mojo at 11:30, 20 January 2008 | Report This Post


Why hasnt Kevin Bacon won an oscar? His performance is just mesmerizing. Without a doubt the best i have seen in a long time. The film itself is very.......different. And for that it deserves credit. Its is not confortable viewing, and you do question yourself for feeling sympathy for such a "monster" Excellent ... More

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Posted by banf at 02:21, 05 January 2006 | Report This Post

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