Movies have become so predictable these days that whenever someone tries something even remotely different, it’s billed as brave and edgy. A sad ending, for instance, is not a great and daring choice, but a simple aspect of storytelling. There are rare movies, however, that do deserve to be heralded for their bravery, and The Woodsman is the latest example.
The Woodsman stars Kevin Bacon in the lead role as a child molester who has been released from jail and is learning to cope with the real world. Seeing a child molester on screen is not entirely new, as some villains and small characters have been sex offenders in the past. But the reason The Woodsman is so different is that Bacon’s character is not just another pure villain.
The fact that the film takes a neutral look at someone who once committed horrible crimes makes it extremely difficult to deal with. This doesn’t make it bad, however; it actually makes it better. There has never been a film made like this one, and that is a reflection on all the characters, not just Bacon’s.
The supporting characters in this film are interesting as well. They include Kyra Sedgwick as Bacon’s love interest, Benjamin Bratt as his sympathetic brother-in-law, and Mos Def giving a great performance as a suspicious detective. All of them show depth rarely seen from supporting characters. Sedgwick is especially interesting in her role as Bacon’s co-worker turned girlfriend. The fact that she stays with him after finding out about his past shows a lot about her character, a conflicted one as well.
Although there are some great supporting parts, the film belongs to Bacon. Despite past mistakes (Hollow Man), Bacon has proved himself to be a solid actor with roles in top-notch films like JFK, A Few Good Men, Apollo 13 and Mystic River. But he has never been as good as he is in The Woodsman.
His character is soft-spoken and quiet, allowing Bacon to convey many of his emotions through his facial expressions and body movements. There are a few scenes with Bacon that are completely terrifying in a dramatic sense, instead of the usual suspense or horror scariness. This is a tribute both to Bacon and writer/director Nicole Kassell, a first-timer destined for greatness.
One of the most interesting aspects of The Woodsman is its lack of classic character values. None of the main characters can be classified as pure good guys or bad guys. They are all a mixture of the two, something rarely seen in any kind of story, not just movies. Bacon is not a malicious man, but a shy, disturbed one. He clearly has a disease and he knows how horrible it is; thankfully, the film doesn’t beg for sympathy. He fights his urge throughout the film, and the few scenes in which he actually talks to young girls inspire gasps from the audience.
The film attempts to be neutral to its topic, but in order to present a watchable narrative film, it has to lean slightly towards Bacon’s side of things. The Woodsman instead tries to get inside the mind of a man guilty of what could be the worst crime imaginable. The most important thing is that it succeeds.
Shawn Wines can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.