In an agonizing scene in a park with a little girl he persuades to sit on his lap, Kevin Bacon digs so deep into the sexual compulsion and self-loathing at war in his pedophile character that what he achieves goes beyond acting. Bacon doesn’t beg or receive sympathy for Walter, a desperate-to-reform sex offender. He makes a far tougher request: that we see Walter as human. By any standard, Bacon gives a landmark portrayal. But when the Oscar nominations are announced on January 25th, the timid Academy will most likely deny Bacon and run from a film this raw and powerful.
The Woodsman, potently directed by newcomer Nicole Kassell from a play by Steven Fechter, stumbles over contrivances. Walter, just out of prison after twelve years and hounded by a cop (a very fine Mos Def), finds an apartment that looks out on a grade school. Gulp. And double gulp to the unlikely affair Walter strikes up with Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick), a forklift driver at the Philly lumberyard where he snags a job. Sedgwick (Mrs. Bacon) is a gifted actress, but Vickie’s decision to stick with Walter even after he reveals his past is a major reach.
It’s Bacon who overcomes all obstacles. This underrated actor, who never got the props he deserved for Mystic River, has found the role of his career. He makes The Woodsman impossible to shake.