Deep, dark woods: ‘The Woodsman’ makes Kevin Bacon the creepiest thing since the Big Bad Wolf

“The Woodsman”Newmarket FilmsDirected by Nicole KassellWritten by Nicole Kassell and Steven FechterStarring Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Mos Def and Benjamin BrattRated R/87 minOpens Feb. 11, 2005

Five out of five stars

If you didn’t believe it before, then you better start now: Sometimes the most important films are downright shocking.

Case in point: “The Woodsman.”

Director Nicole Kassell’s disturbing look at the damaged psyche of a sexual predator, starring Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, centers on a child molester readjusting to life after 12 years in prison.

“The Woodsman” is a layered and moving portrayal of struggle and redemption that doesn’t play to traditional standards-it is a film that doesn’t judge its characters, but rather lets the repercussions of their actions speak for themselves.

Walter (phenomenally played by Bacon) is a pedophile freshly released from prison. He gets a job at a local lumberyard, where he meets Vickie (Sedgwick), a hard-nosed fork-lifter with a soft heart. A ride home leads to sex and the beginnings of a very reluctant relationship.

Vickie is a quick study-her spidey-sense is a-tinglin,’ and it tells her that Walter is hiding something dark and painful.

One of the most important aspects of “The Woodsman” is that Kassell doesn’t make any attempts to excuse Walter’s actions or try to explain them with some glib, black-and-white flashback. Any sort of explanation for Walter’s crime would ring false anyway-what he did was reprehensible, plain and simple.

Tragically, Walter has a sexual drive that can only be satisfied by the innocence and naivet of children.

Needless to say, sex with Vickie is not exciting. The only time we see Walter smile is when he’s talking to a young girl he meets in the park, which leads to the most uncomfortable moment in the film, as Walter is pushed to the threshold of his inner resolve.

As the complex Walter, Bacon has never been better. He plays his character as a man with whom it’s easy to empathize, despite his atrocious past. The inner conflict Bacon is able to convey with the movement of his eyes and the strain of his brow is convincing and positively compelling.

Bacon is ably supported by his real-life wife Sedgwick, who plays Vickie as a woman who is very difficult to shock. She brings sincerity to a role that might otherwise seem unbelievable.

Essentially, in “The Woodsman,” director Kassell asks us to hate the sin, not the sinner. This is very, very risky material-one false step and the film would’ve veered into offensive schmaltz.

Luckily, “The Woodsman” never missteps-it’s an uncommonly perceptive look at a man, his demons and what he does about them.

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