Directed by Nicole Kassell, starring Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Benjamin Bratt, Mos Def, Hannah Pilkes and Eve.
The title 'The Woodsman' is a reference to the fairytale 'Little Red Riding Hood' and the woodcutter who saved the little girl from the wolf. Nicole Kassell's first feature film turns that premise on its head, depicting a character who is both woodsman and wolf, who struggles to define his own character.
Walter (Bacon), just released from prison after serving 12 years for molesting little girls, is trying to rebuild his life. He finds a job in a lumber yard and an apartment opposite a school, where he spends his free time watching the children at play and writing in his journal. Cast out by his sister, his only visitors are his brother-in-law Carlos (Bratt) and the police sergeant who keeps an eye on him (Mos Def).
When he gets involved with a co-worker, Vickie (Sedgwick), he tells her his secret. He attempts to deny his urges and falters, with his close proximity to the school and to girls he passes in everyday life a constant source of temptation.
Kassell's film moves between hopefulness and doubt as Bacon's Walter comes precariously close to re-offending. 'The Woodsman' is neither wholly sympathetic to, nor wholly judgmental of Walter, whom we are asked to see as human, despite his monstrous deeds.
Kevin Bacon marvellously plays a contrite and eager-to-reform sex offender, whose dark side is always close to the surface. He presents a disarming charm when talking to a young girl (a remarkable Hannah Pilkes), whom he follows to the park and we can only shiver as he begins to comfortably sink back into his old habits. Bacon's understated performance is excellent and deserved to receive an Oscar nomination, but was sadly overlooked.
The only flaw is the presence of Kyra Sedgwick's Vickie. Her statement that she sees something good in Walter is not enough to make her trust in him believable and, while the relationship provides hope for Walter, it's flimsy and implausible.
'The Woodsman' answers no questions on the subject of paedophilia, instead focussing on the story of one man's struggle to redeem himself, even if that ultimately proves impossible. It's an interesting, thoughtful drama and a memorable debut by Kassell, with a stunning portrayal by Bacon in his best performance yet.