The Woodsman

2004

The Woodsman

Critics Consensus

Kevin Bacon's performance as a pedophile who is trying to start fresh has drawn raves from critics, who have praised the Woodsman as compelling, creepy, complex and well-crafted.

88%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 131

77%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 20,945
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Movie Info

After twelve years in prison, Walter arrives in an unnamed city, moves into a small apartment across the street from an elementary school, gets a job at a lumberyard, and mostly keeps to himself. A quiet, guarded man, Walter finds unexpected solace from Vickie, a tough-talking woman who promises not to judge him for his history. But Walter cannot escape his past. A convicted sex offender, Walter is warily eyed by his brother-in-law, shunned by his sister, lives in fear of being discovered at work, and is hounded by a suspicious local police officer, Detective Lucas. After befriending a young girl in a neighborhood park, Walter must also grapple with the terrible prospect of his own reawakened demons.

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Critic Reviews for The Woodsman

All Critics (131) | Top Critics (37) | Fresh (115) | Rotten (16)

Audience Reviews for The Woodsman

  • Jul 20, 2013
    A child molester adjusts to post-prison life and falls in love with a co-worker. I applaud Kevin Bacon's choice because this is a ballsy role for a star whose paychecks are secure, but his performance, which is meant to be subtle and aching, comes off like he's squeezing too hard. The film doesn't make Bacon's Walter a particularly admirable character nor is he someone we might love to hate. Instead, the film's central conflict is about getting Walter to realize the depravity of his own desires, which he does along the way, but his realization doesn't become actionable until the climactic scene. It's an interesting source for conflict, but it doesn't carry a lot of suspense. Overall, though the film is admirable in its attempt, I wasn't too compelled by the final product.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Apr 10, 2013
    Kudos to Kevin Bacon for taking on such a risky role and one that so easily could limit future roles. Unfortunately, he has a script here that takes us to places that don't need to be explored other than for some voyeuristic thrill.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Jan 20, 2013
    The Woodsman depicts child molester Walter (Kevin Bacon) and his life after completing a 12 year prison sentence. The audience watch as Walter is constantly tormented, tempted, taunted, and tested by events of the past, his mental state in the present and searching to find progression into the future. It is a very new, dangerous, brave and daring movie, considering the story, lead character and that this was the first outing from new director Nikole Kassel (Cold Case, A Little Bit of Heaven). I would say this movie is new and a first on many accounts. Paedophiles, abusers and molesters have been portrayed on screen before (i.e. Happiness) but never from the perpetrators perspective and correct me if i'm wrong - never as a mental illness that can be treated and that you can "get better" from. As you follow the story you may notice that it runs on several planes. There are many hidden meanings, visual metaphors, psychological questions, jumps and "stop-starts" (usually centred around the working of the mind) that are as real and visible as the story itself. All these seem to be intertwining with clever cinematographic juxtapositions and use of colour (Check me out with the big words). The color red, symbolic of stop, danger, horror, warning and precaution is an on-going theme throughout. It is seen again and again offering insight into Walter's innermost space. Usually highlighting restraint, be it the level of restraint Walter is applying/ should apply and the level of control he has over his desperate desire. Sometimes a warning, like an internal defense mechanism towards himself. Here's a few examples. You see this in the red ball (ball being synonymous of children and play) after counting the steps from his apartment to the school gates, a red stop sign, reference to Red Riding Hood (from where the film took its title) and the girl in the red jacket (Robin)- seemingly shrouded with protection and you know that she will be OK, on this occasion. Not until the sun comes out on the second meeting do we see the jacket removed and slumped over one arm. Now we know the barriers are down, the brakes are off and anything can happen. Another on-going theme is the birds in the movie. Birds, known for their small, delicate, helpless, fragile beauty - very much like children. Even the girls name is Robin. We see that Walter has an interest in birds. He attempts to lure them in with seed that he hangs outside - like he's offering sweets. We see at the end of the movie he no longer has a need to do this and the feeder hangs empty and is left disregarded ... like a bad addiction. At times Walter appears to have a sickness, at others perhaps a madness. The working of the mind is shown clearly by flitting between what is real and what is fantasy, what is happening now and flashbacks. Walter struggles to deal with them and the effect of remembered incidents coming to the front of his mind from a locked, dark place inside. Is it uncomfortable to watch? Yes, in places. When Walter chooses not to help Cherub, how he seems to come to life around young girls, the "invitational" scene, the way he has sex with his girlfriend, when he talks to his "shrink" and when he asks his brother in law if he has experienced sexual thoughts/ feelings about his own daughter. This particular scene was done in such a way that the moment Walter lifts his head to speak you know exactly what he is going to say. I for one was panicking - sweaty hands, pumping heart and totally taken in and ready for the backlash of his wayward, if genuinely concerned question, having just insulted Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) on a deep level. What a difficult movie to manufacture! Take the audience one way and you would be suggesting that we should feel sorry for a serial child abuser. Take them the other and you would create a lot of bad feeling around an already sensitive issue. Play it safe, tread lightly and you will end up with a poor, "wishy-washy", unengaging waste of time. Getting it right is very hard. Couple that with it being your first movie and that you are a woman in a male dominated industry and you will have a seriously daunting task on your hands. For my money Kassel has got the balance just right. A lot of work and thought has clearly gone into every scene. Great and creative cinematography and use of the camera - many interesting shots. I found the boxing commentary over the scene of Cherub being taken in a car by Candy powerful and fascinating (commentary of boxing to symbolise the fight). Nothing has been left to chance or used to fill space or time in this movie. Giving a plant to show the growth of a relationship, the colour red, birds, even his job - pushing a large saw into small grooves. Towards the end there are references to a "mental crossing" (the Zebra crossing), he moves away from the school, neglects the bird feeder and there are several references to freedom (flying birds and the final song to name but two). At this point he appears to be rehabilitated, safe, more normal, cured and more stable. Again, this whole idea of paedophilia as a mental illness or sickness that you can be treated for is new and controversial (as is the whole movie). It poses some big questions and food for thought. Kevin Bacon's performance is believable, captivating and top draw. I was glued to the character development. This movie, although a dangerous choice, has given Bacon a chance to show his skill as an actor in a lead role. The "Shrink" Rosen (Michael Shannon) is also worthy of a mention and he has since gone on to larger roles in movies such as Blackbird, Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter and The Iceman (set for release later this year). I can see why this film has won so many awards. It was never going to be a fun experience, a loved choice or a crowd pleaser. I would suggest that is why its popularity and recognition have suffered. However, I feel it should still be respected. In short it is a tough movie. Covers a most sensitive of subject matters. Poses difficult questions. Is heavy and not to everyone's taste. But is a top film, expertly crafted by a rookie.
    James C Super Reviewer
  • Jan 06, 2013
    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
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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