BIG THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!
If ever there was a film to make you squirm, both internally and externally, this is it.
While watching this amazing little flick (90 minutes), my moral compass was spinning around as if I were standing at the North Pole - that's an acutely direct compliment to the acting and production of this movie but not necessarily its subject matter: the redemption of a pedophile.
As many of us would want, if we ever caught up with a child molester, we'd love to beat the crap out of him. Beat him to a pulp for stealing away the innocence of a child. Try to pound some moral sense into him (even in prison child molesters are held as subhuman and often beaten or killed.) But can we be judge, jury, and executioner - in any personal moral sense - because of what we "think we know" about a person and their serious societal flaws? These are tough questions which are all thrown at the viewer of THE WOODSMAN. Notice I said "thrown at" and not "forced upon". That's an important distinction. For not once did I feel that the script was trying to be sympathetic to criminals, police, or our society. The film shows you both the good and the bad.
The story flows around a recently paroled child molester, Walter (Kevin Bacon, MYSTIC RIVER), who now lives in a dumpy apartment in "Anywhere" USA. But problems immediately arise for Walter: his apartment, the only one that would allow him in, is directly across from a grade school playground; a cop comes by to harass him and tell him what a scumbag he still is; someone at his job finds out about his past and begins distributing flyers about him; and a child stalker (nicknamed "Candy") is prowling near the playground while Walter watches him with both disgust and anguish.
Throughout the film we also see Walter visiting his court appointed therapist, who asks tough questions, and Walter replies with equal brusqueness. He continually asks his therapist "When will I be normal?", feeling the weight of his "illness" every minute of every day. And this is an important set of narratives, because we see Walter wanting to be normal, we can feel the internal battle within him as he struggles with his past and his more uncertain future.
Added to the film is an attractive co-worker, Kyra Sedgwick (Kevin Bacon's real-life wife), who becomes a strange kind of girlfriend that Walter must confide in at some point. And when he finally does tell her why he was in prison, you could cut the tension surrounding both of them with a knife. I found myself holding my breath, waiting for her to respond to his history.
But if I held my breath for a moment there, I literally stopped breathing when Walter follows a young girl into a park and begins speaking with her. By this time in the film, most viewers probably are cheering for Walter to succeed in becoming a normal member of his community. We've felt the terrible pedophile lust trying to move away from this flawed man, and we're happy for him. But society won't leave him alone, and now he seems to be slipping back into some horrible old habits. Or is he? Can this child he follows into the park help The Woodsman be redeemed? It's amazing to me, too, that the title of the film is The Woodsman. This is the tale of Little Red Riding Hood who is cut from the Wolf's belly and removed unscathed. And the little girl Walter follows into the park, if you watch closely, is wearing a little red cape.
I'm going to leave my review here, as I don't want to give away too much more about what happens in the park (the pivotal moment of the film). But I will say that this is a terribly uncomfortable flick to watch, which is why you should. If you want to feel challenged in any real moral sense, this movie is your best bet.