The Woodsman (2004)

“Sounds like you were banished.”

Walter (Kevin Bacon) returns to his hometown after spending 12 years in jail. An apartment is waiting for him, and according to Walter it’s the only place in town that will accept him as a tenant. He also has a job arranged at a factory, and his new boss quite frankly tells Walter that he “doesn’t want any trouble.” Walter begins his ‘new life’–we don’t really know what his ‘old’ life was. The only trace left of life before jail is a brother-in-law, Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) who comes to visit Walter in his sparsely furnished, depressing apartment. Carlos acts as a messenger to tell Walter that his sister, Annette (Jessica Nagle) doesn’t want to see him yet.

Walter is a pedophile, and in Walter’s scheduled sessions, his psychologist tries to get to the root of Walter’s problem. Walter possesses a deep loathing for his problem, and expresses the desire that he wants to be “normal”. Self-loathing causes Walter to not want to discuss his impulses, and to avoid examining his past. It’s painful for him to even think about it–but think about it he must if he’s ever going to understand why he’s drawn to 12 year-old girls. Walter is so isolated, and the thing he needs most is social contact and support–and yet can we blame those who stay away? But it looks as though things may be looking up for Walter when he begins a relationship with a tough worker at the factory, Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick). Vickie knows that there’s something “wrong” with Walter. Fellow employee, Mary Kay (Eve) sniffs he’s “damaged goods”, and while that’s quite obvious, the nature of Walter’s crimes is not.

Is there a criminal more hideous than a child molester? Placing a child molester at the centre of a film is a bold stroke. The Woodsman isn’t a thriller–it’s a character study of a person who is an outcast from society. If Walter were a vicious child molester, the film would be too much to watch, and it would probably turn into some sort of gory thriller. As it is, Walter’s crimes are puzzling enough for the viewer to stick around and see whether or not Walter ever has a chance at rehabilitation. While it seems hardly credible that Vickie should bother to give Walter the time of day, as her story unfolds, her continued liaison with Walter is believable. The Woodsman is a finely detailed character study, and Kevin Bacon does an incredible job of portraying the damaged, fragile Walter. The script subtly weaves the theme of Little Red Riding Hood throughout the film, and the story works, ultimately, thanks to the generosity shown towards all the characters–those who do not accept Walter–as well as the ones who do. From director Nicole Kassell.

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