Monday 1 November 2004

The Woodsman (2004) - ickleReview (cinema - London Film Festival première)

Kevin Bacon plays Walter, a convicted paedophile who is released from prison back into the community, in suburban Philadelphia. He gets a job in a timber yard at which his dad used to work, keeps himself to himself, returning to his bare apartment, staring out the window at a school playground across the street. A feisty blonde at work called Vickie (played by Bacon's wife Kyra Sedgwick) notices he always takes the bus home from work and offers him a lift in her macho SUV. She's upfront and blunt. They're soon sleeping together - an implausibly sudden relationship.

Vickie tries to uncover Walter's black secret. Meanwhile, he meets occasionally with his brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt), his only contact with a family that has disowned him. Police Sgt. Lucas (Mos Def) drops by from time to time to harrass Walter, letting him know that he's under constant surveillance. We also see Walter in conversation with his therapist.

New director Nicole Kassell doesn't try to justify or condone child molestation, or explain the why's or the how's of its happenings. We sympathize with Walter's isolation, yet we cringe at his stupidity, following young girls in shopping malls and public parks. We don't understand his temptation. There is a marvellous and frightening scene on a park bench when Walter talks to an eleven-year-old girl (Hannah Pilkes), who rides the same bus as him and gets off at the park to go bird-watching.

The screenplay by Kassell and Steven Fechter is wonderfully poised. At times the characters' words shimmer in poetic simplicity: they talk of one thing, but may mean another. Closure is reached through a final monologue voice-over from the therapy sessions, but without any hint of Hollywood schmaltz. Pictures, rather than words convey meaning.

Nugget: a rare example of good writing and sensible, usually controlled acting. A stand-out performance by Hannah Pilkes.

For more on the London Film Festival première, see this post.

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