Keswick Film Club - Reviews - The Woodsman

Reviews - The Woodsman

The Woodsman

Reviewed By Darren Horne

“What is the worst thing you have ever done?” reads the tag line to this insightful, thought provoking and in many ways ground breaking film that portrays the efforts of a convicted paedophile to become “normal” again after a twelve year prison sentence.
There is that word “Paedophile”.
Still reading? Paedophilia is an emotive subject, if not the most emotive that will have vigilantes reaching for their base ball bats, parents pulling their children close to them and the media stirring up a witch hunt. It is no wonder that audiences may approach this harrowing film with trepidation, if at all.
Those that do make the decision to watch this film, to have an open mind and avoid knee jerk reactions will be in for a rewarding and enlightening experience that does not preach or defend, but explores. This is an exploration of one of the darkest aspects of society, something that has always been there but remains a taboo in conversation and often in art.

Adapted from a play by first time feature director Nicole Kassell The Woodsman is surprisingly well crafted, with poignancy and confidence that is rare from one so inexperienced, especially considering the subject matter.

Walter (Bacon) wisely keeps to himself, all too aware that the fragile equilibrium that he has built for himself could all too easily be shattered if his past comes out. He gains employment at a lumber yard in Philadelphia, and in a cruel twist of fate can only get an apartment opposite a school. This is his world, living in fear that his co-workers might discover his criminal past, and living with temptation every day as he stares from his window at the young girls coming and going from school.

As an audience we watch transfixed, wanting to despise Walter, and yet not being able to find anything to truly hate about him except for the crime he committed over a decade ago. A tight knot builds in our stomachs, a fear and tension, as Walter goes through each day, at times passing by young girls, sometimes following them and then conversing with them. We feel a deep fear that he may strike again and yet cling to a hope that he will fight his urges.

Bacons performance is being hailed by many as the best of his career, and it is easy to see why. He brings depth to this character with a subtle performance that shows the inner turmoil of a man that carries a world of guilt on his shoulders along with a self loathing and fear of re-offending. Bacon manages all these traits with ease, suggesting a complexity and three-dimensionality to a character that we will never love; but learn to admire.

Bacons real life wife plays Vickie (Sedgwick), a co worker that begins a relationship with Walter. Their on screen chemistry helps in making Walter a human being, rather than a monster. In one scene Vickie initiates the standard relationship conversation of “what is your darkest secret?” A fun game between many lovers, but this time the answer she gets shines the harsh light of reality onto their budding romance. Her reaction is understandable in many ways, and handled perfectly by Sedgwick whose characters actions become a very real source of hope that Walter will be rehabilitated. Walters exploration of how to love, and make love, to an adult woman (a feisty one at that) is intriguing and touching, especially when he appears to re-enact his crime with her, trying to direct his lust and fantasies onto a consenting adult.

Walter is portrayed as a semi-mythic deity, a creature “other” than the norm, a deviant that walks among us seeing the world through different eyes. He sees all men as potential paedophiles, in a hope that he isn’t a monster, but an average man that was unable to control the urges that every man feels. He is an archetypal fairy tale character, not to be confused under any circumstances with a pantomime villain. He represents a primal fear, and wears the mask of the child catcher from those dark tales of old, moral tales in which there was rarely a happy ending. The film links itself to this fairytale world via its title and Walters job; a woodsman.
As Detective Lucas (Mos Def) explains the woodsman was the hero of Little Red Riding Hood who cut open the big bad wolf and freed her. He laments that there are no Woodsman, no heroes, in the real world. Even though the Detective is an officer of the law his obsessive surveillance of Walter means he fails to notice another Paedophile on the prowl, one that Walter is all too aware of. A reflection on our society in which the media focuses our attention on rehabilitated Paedophiles that may live among us, when in truth it is the family members and friends that are statistically more likely to be the threat.

The character ark of Walter is perfectly executed and believable, and we are gripped as he continually struggles to throw off the mask of child catcher and attempts to fulfil the unattainable role of the woodsman, a protector of children rather than a hunter. The scenes that aid this evolution of character are crafted, paced and played with such intricacy that afterwards the audience will realise they have been holding a collective breath, the film has entranced you so much.

It is made clear throughout the film that paedophilia is a disgusting act, and the Detective recounts specific accounts that are sure to horrify. It does not try to get the audience to sympathise with or condone Walters’s actions, but does ask questions about the society in which we live, where the sexualisation of the young is increasingly frequent. It is now common for adolescent girls to act in an extremely arousing and sexual way in society and in the media, causing many paedophiles to search for younger and younger girls to find innocence. It is now not unusual for society to accept sexually active fourteen years old girls becoming parents. If fourteen year olds can be a parent this year, in a few years will it be eleven and twelve year olds? How far are we away from a society in which pre teens are mothers and fathers? Who is to blame? What’s the worst thing you have done? How would your friends and family react if they knew? These are just a few of the questions that the film poses.

The Woodsman re-affirms the power of cinema as a force to intelligently provoke discussion and illuminate those areas of society that are too often misunderstood or hidden; and as such this film is deserving of applause.

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