‘It’s when you keep going around in circles that you find things you missed the first time,’ says the psychiatrist to Kevin Bacon’s character, Walter, in The Woodsman. We found this film last night on Netflix, when I was looking for an antidote to the film my daughter just made us watch (Abduction, because it starred Taylor Lautner). As she headed off to bed I demanded ‘something thought-provoking’, and I was not disappointed.
Walter is a convicted paedophile who is trying to rebuild his life after his discharge from prison, and in this scene he is telling his psychiatrist that he had followed a young girl around a shopping mall, spying on her from behind a jewellery counter until brought to his senses by a ‘Can I help you?’ from a shop assistant. He seems lonely and isolated, and desperate not to re-offend. His only human contact appears to be with a suspicious cop (played by Mos Def) who calls on him throughout the movie to remind him that his every move is being watched (‘why do they let you people out?’ he says ‘we just have to catch you all over again.’) and his brother-in-law, who explains regretfully that Walter cannot be invited to his daughter’s 12th birthday party.
He meets a woman at work, an equally damaged character who seems to offer forgiveness and redemption (played by his wife, Kyra Sedgwick). Throughout the film, we are reminded that Walter is capable of re-offending despite his desperation not to. He lives opposite a school and watches the playground constantly, watching the children and watching another man who is also watching the children…
I think that this film has often been called ‘brave’. Kevin Bacon was brave to play a paedophile, and the film is brave in that it is sympathetic to his predicament while keeping us aware of the danger Walter could pose to young girls. The ending is optimistic, maybe a little too optimistic, but the film did not shy away from harsh reality.
The Woodsman was made in 2004; if, like me, you missed it, it is definitely worth a watch. Having admired Kevin Bacon in Footloose in the 80s, and been perplexed by him in his recent incarnation on my TV, I really enjoyed watching him in this film.