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Woodsman, The  (2004)

 

Rating: R

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: April 12, 2005
Review posted: April 5, 2005

 

Reviewed by Greg Malmborg

 

SYNOPSIS

 

The Woodsman is a riveting and perfectly balanced character study about a very shocking and delicate subject with a lead character struggling to mend his ways and control the urges and tendencies that have naturally developed through the course of his life.

 

At the end of a 12-year prison stint, Walter (Kevin Bacon) finds himself back in society trying to hold down a lousy job at a lumberyard.  He is haunted by his past and struggles to understand himself and how to continue living a normal life.  He sees a therapist often who unsuccessfully tries to get Walter to dig deeper and confront his problem.  His problem is that he was sent to prison for pedophilia, he used to molest young girls.  In an ironic twist of fate, his new apartment is set only 300 feet away from a grade school.  Walter tries not to notice or look at any of the young girls; he immediately goes somewhere else the minute he feels like he is in a compromising situation.

 

Walter has a local cop (Mos Def) keeping an extremely watchful eye on his daily activities and is the first to let him know that not a soul would miss him if he were to just throw him out of his apartment window.  Walter’s brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt) is the only part of his family, or his past for that matter, that will even talk to him.  They occasionally grab a beer and try to avoid discussing Walter’s dark past.  Walter soon meets a woman, Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick), at the lumberyard who takes a liking to him.  Vickie is a tough, levelheaded woman who also has a dark past.  The two strike up an intense relationship without Vickie’s knowledge of Walter’s sordid past.

 

Walter knows what he has done is deeply wrong and he is bent on never repeating it, but he may or may not make it.  Every day is a struggle and he must put his trust in someone in order to get through it all.

 

CRITIQUE

 

The Woodsman is a very humane, gutsy, and realistic film that never tries to evoke sympathy for Walter nor presenting him as just a monster.  The film focuses more on Walter’s inner conflict, his knowledge of what he’s done and his immense struggle to control and understand his inner desires while trying to make a life for himself. 

 

The minute you start feeling sorry for Walter because he has no more friends or family or because the people at his work are giving him an extremely hard time, the film wakes you up with a scene of Walter struggling against those inner demons and you are instantly reminded that he is a pedophile.  He’s someone you’d consider a monster.  It’s this balanced and realistic tone that makes it such a challenging and outstanding film. 

 

This is a film that has a true vision and the director Nicole Kassell does an absolutely wonderful job.  She is a recent film school grad who shows so much promise here I’m sure she’ll become a prominent director in the next decade.  Kassell handles the material with intelligence, grace, and a delicate touch that frames the terrific performances from the cast in a brilliantly rational and spot on fashion.  The Woodsman feels true and honest, it never tries to make you feel a certain way, instead it asks the viewer to answer their own questions about the subject and think about these delicate and important social issues.  Kassell not only directs but also had a hand in writing this remarkable and difficult script.  The dialogue is grounded in reality and it’s obvious that much research went into it. 

 

But the film wouldn’t work if the lead performance wasn’t anything short of Oscar worthy and Kevin Bacon delivers his best work to date (which is really, really saying something).  Bacon is so strong and subtle here; it is simply ridiculous that he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.  I’m sure it was the subject matter that turned off voters but Bacon takes such a huge gamble and succeeds so well you feel nothing but admiration for him after seeing the film.  Bacon is perfectly in tune with the tone of the film.  He never goes in one direction too much, he’ll seem like a perfectly nice guy one minute, then a haunted soul the next, and then hints at the monster beneath which feels almost shocking in spots.  The supporting cast is also terrific.  Sedgwick (Bacon’s real wife) has a great chemistry with Bacon (as you would suspect) and manages to make you feel like these two have never met before (which is unexpected and remarkable).  Their courtship is realistic and honest, and that is a testament to their great performances.  Mos Def is surprisingly effective as the soulful, interesting cop.  He is definitely one to watch.  Benjamin Bratt gives another great supporting turn as Walter’s brother-in-law who wants to stay in touch but struggles to avoid the delicate subject.  Bratt is in need of a great lead role; he has the skills and charisma to take it to the next level.  Eve is also strong in a very small role that shows she has some dramatic chops.

 

THE VIDEO

 

The transfer is clear and crisp (the exterior shots look great, it was shot in Philly and gets it right) and the colors are vibrant and lucid.  It is a terrifically balanced and exceptional video transfer.

 

THE AUDIO

 

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and it is outstandingly clear; the balances are perfect, the surround is active, and the dialogue is crisp.  There were no noticeable audio problems. 

 

THE EXTRAS

 

Commentary with Director Nicole Kassell – This is a very informative and interesting commentary track from a new and refreshing talent.  Kassell is a very passionate and fascinating director who effectively takes you through the whole production (from the early stages of conceiving the script to the difficulties of casting to the actual filming).  This is a great commentary track.

 

Deleted and Extended Scenes – There are 3 scenes here, two of them are very much off tone and it is obvious why they were cut.  One involves a different approach on the most powerful scene in the film that feels way off character; the cut in the film is just perfect.  The other is just an extended scene showing Walter and Vickie discussing moving in together that also feels unnecessary and a bit off the tone of the film.  But the other scene included here is one I was baffled by why it was cut.  The scene has Vickie finally asking Walter why he did it and Walter gives a brief observance of what he had done and why.  This is a great scene that I would have liked to hear the director’s commentary on to understand why it was cut.

 

Getting It Made – This is just filler, an extra which claims to be a documentary on the making of the film.  This is really just a very short conversation with the producer Lee Daniels on his own struggles trying to get this film made.  He is the producer who produced Monster’s Ball and he is a very arrogant, strange guy who barely even acknowledges the great work his director did or the just phenomenal performances of the cast.  He just talks about himself for the most part.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

The Woodsman is a great, challenging film touching on a very delicate subject that is executed with intelligence, sensitivity and grace from top to bottom.  At its core is a truly magnificent performance from one of the best working actors alive that is surrounded by top-notch talent both in front of and behind the camera.

 

VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

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:: The DVD

 

:: DVD Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

9

THE VIDEO

8

THE AUDIO

8

THE EXTRAS

7

OVERALL

8

 

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