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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests