Movies We Like
Redemption is a complex thing. Our quest to find and observe it is even more multifaceted and often biased. We are drawn to stories where characters have redeeming qualities or, at the end of some relevant venture, find redemption in an act, thought, or belief. Usually this is something that your average person can relate to; a person coming into the dizzying territory of adopting a sense of selflessness or virtue—maybe making some wrong right. But who can relate to a story where someone who has done something as deplorable as molesting a child strives to find a way to redeem himself? Who even thinks they can sit through a film where this is obviously the end goal? Unfortunately the answer could very well be not many, but The Woodsman, should one feel comfortable enough with their own sense of self, is one of the finest stories about this quest that is not only overlooked, but avoided.
Kevin Bacon takes on the most dynamic role of his career thus far as Walter, a man just released from a 12-year prison sentence for molesting pre-teen girls. He finds work at a lumber yard run by Bob (David Alan Grier), who takes him on simply because he inherited the company and knows that Walter gave years of excellent service to his father. Though he has the jaded look of a man who has obviously come from prison, his coworkers are unaware of his crimes and don't care to pry except for Mary-Kay (played by singer-songwriter Eve), the office secretary who wants to know everyone's business and makes false friends in order to do so. In the midst of his daily routine Walter meets Vicki (Kyra Sedgwick), a spunky blonde struggling to hold her own in a male-dominated field. Her seen-it-all demeanor and harmlessly invasive conversation leads her to be his only confident and, in time, lover.
Outside of work Walter goes through the necessary self-torture of bettering himself. He meets with a therapist regularly and has visits from the only member of his family willing to speak to him, his brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt). He's found an apartment directly across from a school, from which he must keep a certain distance by law, and humors visits from a nasty parole officer (Mos Def) who not only believes Walter will be back in a matter of weeks but seems intent on pushing him to this common conclusion.
After introducing the viewer to all the necessary facets of Walter's experience, director Nicole Kassell then pulls out the unexpected; she helps you understand and care for someone you would otherwise shun. This is no easy feat. The film finds an array of platforms that you can relate to, such as the awkwardness of being the “new guy” and the woes of being the black sheep within a family for any particular reason. We see Walter going through terrible, yet honorable bouts of self-hatred and soul-searching in attempts to understand himself and change the way he looks at his surroundings. Of course, when all is said and done, he and all those around him have to face the inevitable test of endurance and trust when Walter is not only given the opportunity to fall back into his old ways, but also to have an impact of the lives of several victims.
The first thing you'll notice about the movie is the brilliance of its cast. Bacon's performance is consistent and unnerving, and all the players keep up with him step for step, starting with real-life spouse Sedgwick—who I've only seen in a few unmentionable roles. Here she exemplifies the woman whom you don't often get to see in cinema—the one who chooses to really try and understand her lover for the obvious reason that it allows her to understand herself and her perception of good and evil. David Alan Grier's portrayal of a man too jaded to question morals, if only for the sake that it eludes confrontation, is a refreshing and quite interesting switch from his usual comedy roles. Mos Def sends chills as he brilliantly fleshes out a bully who can't understand the world around him and, while working with special victims cases, has seen horrors that have obviously shaken his spirit. There is a small but masterful role by Michael Shannon as Walter's therapist whose slow, but thorough sessions are vital to the film—to both incriminate Walter and lead us into his dark past in a way that is so intimate and necessary that you perhaps come away seeing and hearing more than you'd really like to.
The Woodsman is one of those sleepy, under-appreciated wonders that gives back hope to the viewer for two reasons; it is an example of redemption that is honest and involving ,as well as a splendid example of the kind of original filmmaking that fans of independent dramas yearn to see. For a modern and metaphorical twist on an originally grim fable (Little Red Riding Hood) that is fitted with outstanding performances and confident camera work, The Woodsman is most certainly the perfect way to step out of your comfort zones and into the lives a group of people disassociate from, but with whom you may have more in common with than you ever thought imaginable.