The Woodsman (15)

4.00

Out in the cold

It's never quite happened for Kevin Bacon. It may be just a vagary of the star system, but his almost-handsomeness and the suspicion of something snide in those pointy features could be why he's been consistently under appreciated. The angular young man who made an impact as the mixed-up rich kid in
Diner would, after romantic-hero promise, be relegated to supporting roles, and even when he excelled in them - brilliant as a gay hustler in
JFK, deftly restrained as the cop in
Mystic River - his career didn't pick up the necessary momentum.

It's never quite happened for Kevin Bacon. It may be just a vagary of the star system, but his almost-handsomeness and the suspicion of something snide in those pointy features could be why he's been consistently under appreciated. The angular young man who made an impact as the mixed-up rich kid in Diner would, after romantic-hero promise, be relegated to supporting roles, and even when he excelled in them - brilliant as a gay hustler in JFK, deftly restrained as the cop in Mystic River - his career didn't pick up the necessary momentum.

His latest role, in The Woodsman, has already won plaudits (though not, significantly, award nominations) and one can only hope that enough people will see it to find out why. Sadly, the film's subject matter is of a kind likely to keep them away. Bacon plays Walter, a convicted paedophile who's been released after 12 years in prison and is now trying to slip back into society as unobtrusively as he can. (That the authorities have seen fit to rehouse a paroled child-molester in an apartment opposite an elementary school is one of the film's few mis-steps). Walter gets work at a local lumber mill, where his prison pallor initially goes unremarked; if he kept his head down any lower it would be resting around his ribcage. He clings to his solitude as if it were his destiny.

Society slowly leaks through his defences. His brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt) enlists him in a beery camaraderie, while the question he asks of his shrink is inevitably the one which has no answer: "When will I be normal?". Bacon conveys the loneliness of the ex-con in a beautifully contained and sombre performance. We see in his eyes the haunting fear of exposure and of the social ostracism that will follow, yet it's also the deeper fear of what he knows himself capable of. When fellow worker Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick) begins to take an interest in him, one feels the creeping dread of his secret being unlocked. "Something happened to you," she says, trying to cajole him into confessing, and I waited for the moment of truth in what can only be described as a full body cringe.

First-time director Nicole Kassell shapes the film around the lead performance - Bacon is in almost every scene. And Kyra Sedgwick, Bacon's real-life missus, does good work here as Vickie, her tough-broad act hiding a secret of her own that will bond her uncertainly to Walter.

So much of the film is played in this low key that you begin to wonder if Kassell can handle drama as adroitly as she does character. Will it spring from the coolly hostile cop (Mos Def) who's on Walter's case? Or from the secretary who's orchestrated a whispering campaign at the sawmill? Or will it concern the paedophile whom Walter has spotted hanging around the school opposite?

In fact, none of these becomes the dominant focus, though all of them conspire to reawaken Walter's illicit urges. As he rides the bus home, or visits a mall, or walks down the block, the film locates something ominous in his eyeline. The shy, chastened man we have come to know hasn't beaten his demons, he's just in hiding from them.

They finally resurface as he takes to following an 11-year-old girl (Hannah Pilkes) through a park; when the two eventually sit down on a bench and begin talking, one feels an almost intolerable constriction pressing on the heart. Poignantly, the only time we see Walter smile is in the company of this child, who seems to know more than she lets on. Her passion is birdwatching, which itself involves a kind of stalking, as she explains to him: "Birds like being watched, as long as they know you won't hurt them".

This scene, the standout of the film, is so exquisitely weighted and acted that what follows - once we've caught our breath - feels something of a letdown. Searching for catharsis, the film climaxes in a bout of violence that's meant to express a comparative moral judgement on paedophile behaviour but actually looks dishonest. Having worked so honourably to present Walter as a forlorn soul whose sexuality is a mystery as much as an affliction, it belatedly forces him into a more audience-friendly role as social avenger. This shouldn't in any way diminish Kevin Bacon's bravery for taking on a type that might be the most demonised in all America.

The Woodsman, a serious and thoughtful drama on a hideously difficult subject, deserves the warmest praise and the widest possible audience. It is certain to secure one of these.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried