Somewhat surprisingly, this film doesn't have too much to do with the woods, yet the title still explains why kids these day don't go out and embrace the wilderness as much as they should, because they're afraid Kevin Bacon might find them and take things a little bit further than embracement. Shoot, man, I can't even jokingly insinuate that this film is well-known by adults (Yes, that's the discomforting insinuation I made in the last sentence), much less the kids who are all so preoccupied with Tweeter, Faceback, MySpace (I may have gotten that site's name right, but my claiming that people still go there especially shows you how out of touch I am) and, evidently, still playing with red rubber balls, like the one that a super dramatic-looking Kevin Bacon is holding on this film's poster. Well, Mr. Walter Rossworth, if you're not a monster, then why does this film's poster feature you holding a ball beneath a subtitle that reads, "From the producer of 'Monster Ball'"? Lee Daniels sure does love his independent dramas about disturbed people in miserable conditions, and considering that his next project with a plot of this nature was "Precious", he prefers to make those kind of films about black people, which isn't to say that he didn't try a change of race-I mean, pace with this film. Hey, to his credit, Daniels went all out with making his big first white effort count, because pedophila is generally a crime that is pretty white guy crazy, and it doesn't help that this film takes place in Philadelphia, a place so white that the courtroom drama that takes place in and takes its title from the city in question starred Denzel Washington, and as a lawyer no less, and it doesn't get too much whiter than that. Sure, this film features a black rapper and all, but, come on, it's Mos Def, and you might not even remember his being here after a while, not just because Kevin Bacon keeps stealing the spotlight, but because you'll probably end up sleeping through all of Mos Def's parts. No, this film isn't that slow, but really, while this film, or at least Kevin Bacon, rewards, it hits home a bit too steadily, which isn't to say that its issues end there.
Often quiet and steady, this film really doesn't use musicality a whole lot, but when it does, it gets sloppy almost every time, as Nathan Larson's score work throws off momentum, not just with its genericism, blandness and overall underwhelming musical quality, but with its tainting this film's atmosphere with a kind of unnerving overstylizing that awkwardly fails to fully fit the overall tone of the film, but succeeds in distancing resonance. If nothing else, when placed over less talkative happenings, the stylish score work and consequential stylish atmosphere sparks a kind of intensely, almost lyrical meditativeness to storytelling that just doesn't gel with the whole of the film, driving a kind of unevenness into the film's pacing and story structuring concepts. Still, as much as the film's most atmospherically stylized moments prove to be inconsistent with the film's more direct whole, it's not like the film ever dismisses a certain flaw that stands as prominent within the meditative moments: repetition, spawned from excess material, if not pure nothingness, that leaves the film to blandly and aimlessly meander around in circles, confused and thin in formula. Needless to say, this film's aimless and repetitious wanderings are made all the worse by atmospheric dryness, which isn't so intense that the film is the bore that I feared it would be, but potent enough to dull things down and drive pacing into a crawl that keeps consistent, even when story structuring isn't, and often disengages investment, partially because it emphasizes just how limited the story concept's potential for engagement value truly is. This film's flaws are potent and consistent, yet as far as quantity goes, there aren't too many blows to the film, though that's largely because there's just not too much of anything to the film, because as worthy as this film's subject matter is, the story is thin, no matter how much director Nicole Kassell desperately works to flesh things out in execution, often with success that I will touch upon later, but perhaps even more often to where overambition is sparked. The film palpably aims to carry itself farther than it ever can go, given the thinness of its story concept, and with such ambition still going betrayed by consistent storytelling faults, the final product comes out short of what it could have, which really isn't all that much. Still, what this film ultimately is is a flawed dramatic effort with more than a few commendable hits that make the final product a descent one by emphasizing what meat can, in fact, be found within this story.
Again, with all of the execution's ambition, this film's story concept is somewhat thin, boasting little in the way of dynamicity, as reflected by its mere 87-minute runtime, which is still, to a certain degree, overlong, yet for every natural shortcoming, the story concept flaunts a piece of potential range and depth that reflects the unapologetic audacity to this project and ignites a certain immediate degree of engagement value, augmented by the successesful efforts within the execution of Steven Fechter's story concept. Nicole Kassell's storytelling is flawed, slipping into gratutiously stylized meditative moments in atmospheric structuring that break up a consistent kind of dryness that dulls things down, yet Kassell isn't ceaselessly faulty, matching her missteps with strengths that aren't simply adequate, but pretty effective, particularly when it comes to capturing this film's subject matter's creepiness, whose portrayal gets to be a bit carried away by Nathan Larson's unnerving musical overstylizing that doesn't really flow with things as organically as you would think, yet is generally quite well-handled by Kassell, with subtlety and enough pronounciation for you to find a reasonably firm grip on the uneasiness that looms over and helps in defining this film's subject matter and throughout the life of the center of this character piece. Kassell delivers on the broad strokes of atmosphere establishment, which, of course, brings more impact to the moments in which all of this uneasiness and creepiness slips into genuine emotional punctuation, which is diluted by the storytelling missteps that cannot be fully battled back by the emotional resonance as the culprit behind the final product's underwhelmingness, but still subtle, inspired and potent enough to draw you in as the atmosphere of this heavy drama culminates into a crucial emotional punch whose effectiveness ranges from near-engrossing to, well, actually near-choke-up-worthy. Certainly, the effective moments of dramatic resonance are few and far between, and cannot obscure there being still too much thinness to this film's story concept, yet they are here, hit with unexepected compellingness, and would be nothing without firm characterization, because as understated as the plot surrounding this character study is, Kassell, as co-writer, and Steven Fechter, the original play's writer, turn in a script that, even with its flaws, delivers on commendable characterization that humanly defines the character roster's distinct individuals, brought to life by the performances behind them. Kevin Bacon is probably given the most material out of everyone in this cast, and even then, he doesn't have quite as much to work with as you would hope, yet most everyone in this cast has his or her time in the sun, with Kyra Sedgwick standing out with convincingness as the flawed yet strong woman dealing with new love with a man she knows to have a dark past that has limited his life, and Mos Def stopping by here and there to engage as the cooly charismatic yet disturbed police official, who is unnerved by a man who falls under a demographic that has presented Def's Sgt. Lucas character with haunting horrors. Still, when it's all said and done, it all comes back to leading man Kevin Bacon, whose very human portrayal of a heavily flawed man seeking to reform his ways is so assured that Bacon all but becomes the Walter Rossworth, complete with a presence that is graced with good intentions, but ravaged by anguish and regret, reflected engrossingly by Bacon's emotionally-involved atmosphere and expressiveness, which goes punctuated by more intense moments in emotional range that define both Rossworth as a flawed but sympathetic soul and Bacon as a compelling lead. I wish I could say that the rest of the film is about as strong as Bacon's performance, or at least as strong as this film's particular heights in effectiveness, yet there are enough strengths to the final product to, not necessarily bypass the shortcomings, but keep you going, even with consistent meetings with flaws.
Bottom line, offputting score work and inorganic stylized meditative spots break up repetition and sometimes dull slowness within a meandering story, whose thinness in concept goes stressed enough by aforementioned flaws and overambition enough to make the final product an underwhelming effort, but one that could have slipped deeper if director Nicole Kassell didn't portray the film's worthy subject matter with a generally effectively well-established atmosphere, punctuated by surprisingly effective occasions of emotional resonance, spawned from reasonably meaty characterization, brought to life by strong performances, particularly that of Kevin Bacon, whose layered and near-transformatively human performance helps in making "The Woodsman" an enjoyable and sometimes effective drama, even with its shortcomings.
2.5/5 - Fair