Worth A Look: 43.9%
Just Average: 25.61%
Pretty Crappy: 9.76%
9 reviews, 28 user ratings
by Todd LaPlace
Thereís something genuinely disturbing about praising a movie about a pedophile. In contemporary society, where dramatizations about murder are regularly deemed acceptable (even ďMacbethĒ is full of death), the last taboo seems to be deviant sex. There are certain acceptable norms and even a few tolerable fetishes if kept private and quiet, but child molestation lies well beyond that line. A film about a man that has committed such acts, even a man thatís supposedly on the mend, is more than a little difficult to watch. Maybe thatís why itís worth doing.Whatís the worst thing you ever did, asks the tagline for ďThe Woodsman.Ē Maybe shoplifted a few packs of baseball cards or gum when you were a kid? Maybe cheated on a significant other? Maybe had a few drinks and then got behind the wheel of a car? For Walter (Kevin Bacon), the answer is clear, but heís not sure he wants to tell you. Everything about Walter, from his simply short hair to his shabby wardrobe to his general polite, but detached demeanor, is completely designed to keep you from asking him such questions. But if you must know, heís a convicted child molester. He specifically targeted young girls, ages 10-12, although he insists he never hurt any of them. He was caught and, of course, sent away for 12 years to a maximum security prison. But after all that time, we accept that heís paid his debt to society and is fine to be out on parole, right? Right?
"Disgusting and haunting. Beautiful and affecting."
Statistically, no, heís not fine. Most people in his position end up returning to prison, this time for life, but Walterís future isnít quite clear yet. Heís got a job working in a lumber yard, but heís reluctant to interact with his co-workers, especially Vicki (Kyra Sedgwick) and Mary-Kay (rapper Eve). He found a nice apartment, but itís across the street from an elementary school. He tries to reconnect with his family as a support system, but the only one willing to give him a chance is brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt). Heís trying to decompress and restart his life, including seeking the help of a therapist, but even the cops (specifically Mos Def) wonít give him a momentís peace. Every time he tries to take a step forward, he gets knocked back two.
The real question for the audience is whether he deserves to take those steps. Heís committed a particularly heinous crime, one where redemption doesnít seem likely. Even in ďrecovery,Ē Walter slips back into old patterns, watching kids from his window, following girls at the mall and commenting on how he likes the noise of the schoolís playground. Walterís therapist believes heís subconsciously trying to test himself, as though his actions are merely a way for his brain to reason with his past mistakes. Twelve years in prison should seemingly sober Walter, but itís unclear if heíll seek comfort in the familiarity of his old life.
Bacon, whose acting chops have been overshadowed by the six degrees game, proves why heís been one of the generationís most prolific actors. Heís got a subtle nuance to his ability, whether heís getting involved in an adult relationship with Vicki or facing his past with lonely tween Robin (Hannah Pilkes). No matter the situation, Walter is keenly aware he has vital information that others donít and thereís always a non-verbal wrestling between exposing the truth and protecting his cleansed slate. Should he come clean to Vicki and perhaps risk losing his only adult relationship or does he keep his dark secret and live in a deceitful relationship? Spotting Robin on his bus, should he follow her past his stop or does he continue trying to lead what he considers a normal life? Weíre never quite sure what Walterís thinking, but Bacon makes it clear that Walterís path is not an easy one.
Rookie director Nicole Kassell and screenwriter Steven Fechter ask you to empathize with a convicted child molester, when our society asks you to immediately condemn them. Itís not an easy task. Walter openly stalks young girls and his claims of change are hard to believe. But do we condemn the sin or the sinner? Is it just the pedophilia thatís evil or do we blame Walter himself? Is it too late to help him? Kassell may be young, but this poignant tale, with all of its layered complexity and tough questions, is the kind of old fashioned movie that fulfills all of the potential of film as an artistic medium. You may not like Walter, but heís definitely got something to say.There is honestly no easy way to watch a movie about a child molester. How do we get in his head enough to understand him and his desires? Do we even want to? Should we even be humanizing such a man? Sometimes the hardest thing to watch is also the one most worth the effort.
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originally posted: 04/03/06 03:43:28
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