The Woodsman Reviews
This film is muted -quite, giving a clear and clean lense for Bacon's performance to shine through with surprising sympathy. Only to have Kyra Sedwick weigh out his performance evenly.
Can a broken human being be fixed, is it entirely impossible to change who we are? Hated and rejected, at lowest can he see the baleness he is becoming. Had watched this film halfway through last year, finally watched it. It is a great film about the soul of a disturbed man, struggling his way to be normal, ultimately reaching redemption and finding guilt, from what's he has been doing.
Although maintaining edgy subject matter, The Woodsman is a low budget film and therefore maintains a sense of simplicity, for better and for worse. In terms of its less than gripping elements, The Woodsman is limited in what it can explore. Although it only runs for 87 minutes which prevents it from ever overstaying its welcome, it remains rooted in its simplicity. All the focus surrounds the main character Walter and how he deals with post-prison life in terms of his psychology and status as a social stigma. I can't blame the film, but the only issue is that it makes the film very subtle. There isn't really much in terms of narrative with The Woodsman as it is essentially all about character development which it is able to succeed at. But the drama in the film does not confront viewers as much as it should. The material in the film is edgy but the way of dealing with it does not put it into the context of a story so much as simply a depiction of one man developing slowly to recover from his flaws. It is slow, but in a gentle way which doesn't demand melodrama or tedious sentimentality. The Woodsman is one of those films which doesn't have to dramatize its material with emphasis on style or adding music in but rather allows the drama in it all to develop on its own terms. This makes it a film which is significantly far from Hollywood tropes and many viewers will have to adjust to that with some unable to really appreciate the value in it all. It didn't do the job perfectly for me, but since I have grown tired of the repetition in Hollywood dramas, it was really nice to see a change of pace in The Woodsman. It was subtle and slow, but also gentle and easy to understand. It all falls onto the work of writer-director Nicole Kassell who worked the script with Steven Fechter and then directed it through the correct territory in a strong manner. For once, The Woodsman is a film about substance over style, even if the general style of the film is nice.
The Woodsman doesn't require its style to compensate for lacklustre roots because the script is solid, but it certainly does help the film out. In maintaining its small scale focus, the setting of the film is captured with a nice collection of locations in Philadelphia which prove atmospheric in the sense that the limited amount of places give a certain claustrophobic setting that matches the experience of being a convicted sex offender trapped within a small town in the reaches of the law. The scenery for the film does a good job establishing the setting of the story and giving the film a general mood as well, and it is further enhanced by the cinematography which encourages this notion. The entire film is shot with gentle cinematography techniques which get up close and personal with the cast members to capture their facial expressions in key detail and their body language to convey what they are feeling when they are not saying anything. The camera in The Woodsman puts a lot more focus on the cast than the scenery which re-establishes the fact that it is a film which is about characters more than anything. The smooth editing of the film also adds to this. All in all, the general style of The Woodsman makes the entire experience feel organic which combines with the general mood of the script to render it the simple feature that it is. The Woodsman goes for simplicity without resorting to tropes and it pays off because Nicole Kassell's ambition as director takes the film in a direction commonly ignored by mainstream cinema circles. It may take some adjusting for the viewer, but by the end of it the experience is insightful and innovative.
Kevin Bacon's chilling performance is what makes The Woodsman worth the viewing. Tackling on the role of Walter, a convicted child molester, he steps into edgy territory. But with his strong dramatic talents which he has spent many years developing, he takes on the part incredibly. Kevin Bacon does a strong job portraying Walter in a complicated light, one which is both sympathetic and eerily haunting. Instead of following the character into archetype territory, Kevin Bacon portrays him in the true complicated way that a man with a strange sexual affliction must think. He captures the frail emptiness of a man battling his inner demons every day just to fit into society, and shows his triumphs over himself just as easily as his downfalls which just goes to show how truly complicated it is to be a paedophile. You can see through Kevin Bacon's eyes into his soul and witness the emptiness of a man with such emotional trouble to him, and through that and the way he approaches all the dark subject matter of the film he is able to leave audiences sympathising for him. To have viewers sympathise for a child molester is one hell of a challenge, and the last time I saw that happen was when I witnessed Jackie Earl Hailey's Academy Award nominated performance in Little Children which really surprised me. Kevin Bacon goes along the same lines, and his dark performance is the entire reason that The Woodsman is worth the experience. If anyone ever doubted his abilities as an actor, his performance in The Woodsman should be the thing that changes that.
So although it is slow and subtle, The Woodsman works thanks to strong directorial work from Nicole Kassell who gives the film a chilling atmosphere and works the script nicely while the powerful leading performance from Kevin Bacon successfully has viewers thinking deeply about the character he plays, rendering it an edgy but entertaining film which is able to overcome its faults.
Overall, I would definitely rate this film 5 stars.
I simply love Kevin Bacon's performance. He just acts so realistically.