Nicole Kassel’s “The Woodsman,” starring Kevin Bacon, is a quiet and subtle exploration into the world of pedophilia and incest. And while we might want to put that as far away from us as possible, the movie makes us look at it with uncomfortable closeness. It suggests that how we view our children — as our breathing property or as little beings — makes all the difference.
What is very surprising is that a movie that is so full of pain is also so full of hope. We meet Bacon’s Walter as he gets released on parole after 14 years in prison. He has a job in a lumber mill and an apartment across the street from an elementary school. He is a pedophile.
As a condition of his release, he meets with a therapist, who suggests keeping a journal. Mos Def plays a policeman, who makes sure Walter knows he’s being watched.
Walter also spends time with his brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt), who happens to be Puerto Rican. Walter had been the only family member to accept him. That’s the closest Walter gets to his family.
His sister and her daughter, whom he desperately wants to connect with, want nothing to do with him.
He hooks up with Vicki (Bacon’s real-life wife Kyra Sedgwick), who drives a forklift at the mill. She is the only woman on the warehouse floor and she’s tough. She also has her own set of secrets.
But the bulk of his time is spent in his head, struggling with the one thing that can’t be tolerated.
A scene with Walter sitting on a park bench with an 11-year-old girl, whom he has already spoken to by getting off the bus at the same stop, is short, but very scary.
Bacon’s performance is masterful. The camera shows him both as a hard and jaundiced convict and as a child small and maybe frozen by his own exploitation at someone else’s hands.
Most actors wouldn’t touch a part like this, but Bacon absolutely rises to the challenge.
For sure we can and should close those cold steel bars on child predators, but one way to help prevent the crime might be to give our little beings a strong enough voice so that it doesn’t have to happen.