Monday, January 31, 2005

The Woodsman

The Woodsman (Director: Nicole Kassell)

This is Kassell's feature debut. This is writer Stephen Fecter's first produced script, and it won 1st prize at the Slamdance Screenplay Competition in 2001. No local release date has been set yet, but it came out in limited release on December 24.

Well, we've seen the setup before. A stranger comes into a town with a secret, and that secret is destined to destroy him. Walter (Kevin Bacon) has been in prison for 12 years, has just gotten a factory job in a suburb of Philadelphia, and looks to right himself again. His secret is that he molested underage girls, which led to his incarceration, and now he must go back on the outside as a registered sex offender, leading to several complications.

First and foremost, he isn't sure he won't do it again. He visits a therapist regularly, and his hope is to be normal. In sort of a cosmic sick joke, the only residence he can find is right across the street from an elementary school. He watches regularly, and at the therapist's request, begins a journal on what he sees and feels. He notices another predator on the loose outside the school, this one has an affection for boys. Sometimes, a Sgt. Lucas (Mos Def) comes in to taunt Walter, telling him he doesn't think that a sick person like him can live a normal life.

Secondly, at work, a woman named Mary-Kay (Eve) seems to have the hots for the new hire, and after a brief encounter where Walter is short with her, she notices him getting into a good conversation with Vickie (Bacon's wife, Kyra Sedgwick), and the woman scorned starts her investigation into who he is, which of course, gives Walter more problems.

Third, Walter and Vickie get it on, which means trouble for the relationship when the secret is let out. However, the secret is let out early, so this leads to Vickie's character being the woman willing to give Walter a chance. Also, the relationship with his family is not good. His sister won't talk to him, won't let him see his young niece, and the only guy willing to talk to him is his brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt). However, Carlos is a lot like Sgt. Lucas, only more subtle. Carlos, whether intentional or not, seems to throw a lot of joy Walter will never get to experience in his face.

The film seems almost entirely driven by whether Walter will fall into temptation again, leading to some frightening scenes where he follows young girls, and settles on one who rides the same bus as he does when he goes home from work. This leads to one of the most powerful scenes you'll ever see in a film. Kevin Bacon is at his very best here (talk about a disrespected actor when it comes to Oscar time).

In fact, most of the actors here are excellent. Sedgwick is great, and Mos Def has always been enjoyable or even great in all of his roles. On the whole, though, this movie sort of falls flat. A lot of the scenes don't seem to have much meaning after you figure out where this picture wants you to go. It's easy not to care about whether he keeps the girl or the job once the film moves in a direction towards this great scene. It's almost as if the scene was written, and the rest was written around it, and no one can wait to show you this scene. Sure, all of these other scenes serve some purpose, but nothing Walter has seems to hang in the balance. The only thing that hangs in the balance is his sanity. The threads in the film relating to that are all top-notch, but when it comes to relationships and work, it's easy not to care. He can get another job, and once we know Vickie is completely sold on Walter, there's nothing to lose.

In all, this is a movie that should be seen, but it's not great. You should see it for Bacon, and the climactic scene. A hard movie to grade, since it has so many good moments in it. The question is, once you've seen it, would you watch the movie again with interest, or would you want to fast-forward?


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