At turns disturbing and then hopeful, The Woodsman is a powerful film that never descends into melodrama. Kevin Bacon gives a typically strong performance, as does co-star and real-life wife Kyra Sedgwick as his co-worker and eventual girlfriend.
Bacon plays Walter, a convicted child molester just released on parole and trying to become, in his words, normal. He gets a job at a lumber yard where he worked years before, begins a relationship with Sedgwick’s Vicki and works on overcoming his criminal urges. It’s a tough road and he’s tempted more than once, almost falling back into his old behavior despite knowing it will land him back in prison – this time for life.
The Woodsman has a strong script and the direction seems geared toward letting Bacon take the reigns and do his work. He spends much of the film thousand-yard-glaring out the window of his apartment or the bus he sometimes takes to work. When not contemplating his life Walter meets up with his brother-in-law, played by Benjamin Bratt, the only member of his family still speaking to him.
The way Walter and Vicki find each other, not just physically but emotionally, and the issues they work through to get to a place of intimacy is truly believable. There are no cliches here, no “Well, we’ll just ignore the unpleasantness for the sake of the plot” scenes. Vicki knows Walter’s story and comes to grips with it on her own terms, ultimately deciding that the good she sees in him and the potential to help him move on is worth her emotional investment.
I have to say, though, that I’m in the middle of a very fucked-up film festival. First Kinsey, then The Woodsman, and currently I’m halfway through Vera Drake (review coming tomorrow). Didn’t really think through this period when building my Netflix queue.