Beneath the six degrees, the bad action movies, and the flagrant display of his penis lies a great talent inside Kevin Bacon that only gets to shine on occasion. This is one of those times. "The Woodsman" is solid art house cinema - a rather so-so film defined by a superb performance tackling difficult subject matter with careful and objective consideration. This is a film of long silences and strong but repressed emotion, great performers giving insight into the actions of a group of people whom most dismiss off hand as monsters rather than actually trying to understand their nature.
Bacon is utterly convincing as Walter, a pedophile struggling to stay on the straight and narrow despite nearly everyone around him not giving him the chance. Its unnerving but brave of writer-director Nicole Kassel and Bacon in their portrayal to show a man who struggles with dread over the fact that he may one day revert to his old actions which he finds despicable, and yet on more than one occasion his uncontrollable desire rears its head. It's this conflict of will combined with either the sheer hatred or tenuous bonds with everyone else that makes one sympathise with this man who's trying to move on with his life, but several times dangles so close to the edge that you can only watch in horror as you wonder will he go too far.
Bacon in particular who is usually over the top, nicely understates his part here. A lot of this role is about the physical, about showing off an intense internal struggle without getting silly, and he handles it perfectly. Once scene in particular has him losing out to his urges with a young girl he met in a park, only to stop himself in horror when she reveals her father already molests her. It's a heart-wrenching scene and one of several in the film that bring up strong yet conflicted emotions from its viewers.
Other performances are also spot on. Sedgwick, Eve and Bratt all deliver thoughtful and realistic roles with each portraying different ways in which people behave toward ex-convicts and pedophiles. Mos Def in particular as his aggressive parole officer perfectly captures the animosity much of the community has towards the crime, though backs it up with stories of personal experience to justify that hatred. Despite some vengeful characters, the movie never portrays this man as either saint or sinner, rather a man full of faults who's trying his best to overcome and most of the time succeeding.
It's a very drab and stark film, betraying its indie origins, but it suits the drabness of life. It's glacial pacing, tough subject matter and admittedly TV movie style conventions prevent this from becoming a memorable drama, but its solid and well-rounded performances and brave choice of direction do warrant a lot of merit. If you can go in with an open mind, you may come out with a surprisingly different perspective than you might have thought.