The Woodsman


The Woodsman (2004)


Critic 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.


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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 (130) | Top Critics (35)

A lean and unapologetic piece about a type of person too often rendered in simplistic 'monster' colors.

Apr 8, 2005 | Rating: 4/5

[Ms. Kassell and Mr. Fechter] trick up Walter's character with so many conflicting moods and impulses and then place him within a post-prison society that is itself alternately oppressive and permissive.

Jan 27, 2005 | Full Review…
Top Critic

An involving, intense but ultimately confused portrait.

Jan 21, 2005 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

To watch this picture is to feel, and what you're feeling is an intense swirl of conflicting emotions -- disturbed, creeped-out, sorry, and, yes, even moved.

Jan 21, 2005 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

A flawed film that's well worth seeing.

Jan 21, 2005 | Rating: B
Detroit News
Top Critic

It is both difficult to watch and compelling.

Jan 21, 2005 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Woodsman

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 Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

Kevin Bacon, not a name usually dropped in conversations about great actors, delivers a tightfisted, bravura performance in this conventionally unconventional tale about a child molester's attempt at societal rehabilitation. Kyra Sedgwick is more than able support as the woman who loves him. It's often difficult to watch, so be warned.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

Slow and understated, probably to show the struggles of a very troubled soul, this film offers much to contemplate. There are no easy answers in an issue like the sexual abuse of children, and yet who is good and who is evil is not so clear here in this picture. The one thing that is clear, however, is Kevin Bacon's performance. He played his role beautifully. DIsturbing, yet eye opening film.

Cynthia S.
Cynthia S.

Super Reviewer


The Woodsman asks a lot of its viewers, and I think it grapples with the issue of pedophilia in a much more organic and realistic way than Little Children did. Movies rarely seem willing to engage in this discussion in a mature way, immediately demonizing the assailant or making him, at the very best, a tragic hero; this movie doesn't crucify Walter, but by no means does it forgive him. By aligning our perspective with his, the movie brings us as close as we can get to empathetically understanding everything he goes through, which is standard fare for any given film but almost none with a character this taboo. I think that's the hurdle that Nicole Kassell had to overcome with The Woodsman - pedophilia by nature is so utterly vilified that the best you could do with a pedophile protagonist is a "love the sinner, hate the sin" sort of message. Naturally, pedophilia deserves to be hated, but therein lies the challenge with dissecting sexual deviance in a mainstream narrative. A movie that sympathizes 100% with the actions of its molester protagonist is going to fail completely in the eyes of nearly all its viewers, no matter how interesting it may actually be. So I commend Kassell for reconciling commercialism and palatability with challenging subject matter, even if she somewhat misses the mark in her treatment of the character. Kevin Bacon's restrained performance allows us tiny flickers of contrition, confusion and even happiness (and occasional anger, too, in a showy and generally unnecessary scene that Bacon probably thought would be his Oscar clip). He's willing to explore Walter with us, but not give us any answers, which is refreshing. There's an appeal in the character's unwillingness to be liked. I really liked this movie when I first finished it, even its easy but no less harrowing ending. I took a little time to let it cool in the recesses of my mind, and I can still recall plenty of really great little moments about it. The performers are committed and thoughtful, with the exception of Mos Def as the overly broad, villainous policeman who harasses Walter. I really enjoyed Kyra Sedgwick. Why don't we see her in more roles? I'm not gonna go out and watch The Closer for her or anything, where she plays a character who I guess is cut from the same cloth as this one, but I'd like to see her in a role that stretches her a little more.

Drew Smith
Drew Smith

Super Reviewer

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