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Nicole Kassell
Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Eve, Mos Def, David Alan Grier, Michael Shannon, Benjamin Bratt, Carlos Leon, Kevin Rice
Writing Credits:
Steven Fechter (play), Steven Fechter, Nicole Kassell

After twelve years in prison, Walter moves into a small apartment across the street from an elementary school, gets a job at a lumberyard, and mostly keeps to himself. He finds unexpected solace from Vicki, a tough-talking woman who promises not to judge him for his history. But Walter cannot escape his past. Shunned by his sister and living in fear of being discovered at work, Walter struggles with re-entry into society and facing his demons.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$53.985 thousand on 6 screens.
Domestic Gross
$1.566 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1

Runtime: 87 min.
Price: $26.96
Release Date: 4/12/2005

• Audio Commentary with Director Nicole Kassell
• “Getting It Made” Featurette
• Deleted and Extended Scenes
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Woodsman (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 30, 2005)

20 years ago, Kevin Bacon looked like little more than the flavor of the month for teeny-bopper girls after his success with Footloose. However, since that time, he’s proven himself to be an exceedingly versatile actor. He still plays conventional leads but he also immerses himself in supporting parts and more challenging primary roles in small films.

With 2004’s The Woodsman, Bacon takes on a controversial choice. He portrays Walter Rossworth, a prisoner who leaves on parole for the first time in 12 years. He gets a simple job at a lumber yard and a small apartment as he tries to recover some form of a life. His brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) catches him up on family life, but it’s clear Walter’s still not welcome with most relatives.

Walter doesn’t warm up to his coworkers, but he slowly gets to know rough-edged Vicki (Bacon’s real-life wife Kyra Sedgwick). She tries to get his “deep, dark secret” out of him, but he doesn’t spill the beans. She seduces him anyway and the pair do the nasty.

They become a couple, and Walter eventually admits his crime: he molested little girls. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to faze Vicki, and Walter ends up tossing her from his place. That leads to distance between them at work. The movie follows their relationship, Walter’s attempts to rebuild his life and the obstacles along the way, and also his observations of a probable sex offender he names “Candy” (Kevin Rice).

Without question, folks who enact crimes against children - especially those of a sexual nature - are viewed as the lowest of the low. On the “Off-Topic” page of a music forum I visit, the actions of a sex offender in Florida were greeted with cries for the most brutal and barbaric punishments imaginable. Sure, some of this stems from the usual Internet grandstanding, but those remarks nonetheless indicate the passionate loathing most people feel for men who abuse children.

That makes it very tough for us to view a character like Walter with any form of objectivity. From the outset, we’re prone to see someone in his position as a monster. While Woodsman makes no excuses for his behavior, it allows us to take him in as a real human being.

The use of Bacon in the lead helps this occur. A natural sympathy comes along with his presence. Given our history with the actor, we’re predisposed to like him, and that means a disconnect in our minds between our warm thoughts for Bacon and our abhorrence of the character’s acts.

In addition, the movie parcels out bits and pieces of information about Walter’s crimes so slowly that we don’t jump to conclusions immediately. The story nibbles at his past without bludgeoning us, and even when we learn of his actions, the details remain vague. This allows us to see Walter as a person first and not become overwhelmed by his crime right off the bat.

Woodsman portrays things in a very realistic fashion that allows the story to excel. A very low-key affair, it stays away from the usual histrionics and melodrama we’d expect from this kind of movie, and it also avoids fully redeeming Walter. He grows and changes, but the film doesn’t shy away from depicting his temptations and inclinations. Walter maintains a distinct lack of guilt about his crimes but he understands that he’s not “normal” and he struggles to change.

That’s really the best I could hope for a film of this sort. There’s no miracle cure, and Walter never comes across as demon or saint. Via the “Candy” subplot, the movie easily could turn him into some pedophile-busting crusader, but it doesn’t. Even when he eventually acts, I get the feeling it’s more out of self-loathing than concern for the children.

Bacon’s excellent lead performance definitely contributes to the movie’s success. He brings a nicely haunted quality to Walter, but he never turns the character into a victim. This sort of tale easily could have turned into a litany of reasons for Walter’s perversion, but it doesn’t. Thankfully, we get precious little analysis of why he turned out the way he did, as things stay firmly in the here and now. We’re concerned with Walter’s current course, but Bacon gives us enough of a glimpse behind his eyes to bring tremendous depth to the role.

The Woodsman becomes a little simplistic at its conclusion, but most of the time, it presents a complex and nuanced tale that works very well. The film resists the natural urge to indulge in simplistic moralizing and self-righteousness, and it also avoids traps such as making its lead a hero via a miracle cure. Instead, it views a delicate topic with sensitivity and realism.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

The Woodsman appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Woodsman presented a decent transfer that suffered from some problems.

Many of my complaints probably shouldn’t be seen as flaws because they came from the movie’s indie roots and its visual design. Gritty stories like this get gritty photography, and the extremely low-key look of Woodsman was reflected in the drab transfer. Sharpness seemed fine for the most part. A few shots came across as mildly blurry, and some of that stemmed from edge enhancement; haloes were apparent through much of the flick. Still, the movie usually demonstrated acceptable definition, and I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering.

Print flaws were a different issue. On one hand, I attributed the flick’s graininess to the many dimly-lit interiors and the general look of the movie, so while the grain became a minor distraction, it seemed to be an intentional one. On the other hand, more than a little speckling occurred. Particularly evident during the scene in which Walter admits his crime to Vicki, and the one in which Walter approaches a girl named Robin, white spots periodically turned into a nuisance. Low budget or not, a movie this new shouldn’t have so many defects of this sort.

If I had to pick a term to describe the palette of The Woodsman, I’d go with “battleship gray”. Occasionally I saw some minor flourishes of color - such as during outdoor daylight shots - but most of the flick featured varying degrees of steely drabness. Blacks were a bit inky, and shadows tended to be somewhat dense. Low-light shots demonstrated acceptable definition but they could be a little murky. Ultimately, the visuals of Woodsman didn’t negatively affect my interest in the movie, but I can’t describe this as anything other than a bland transfer.

I wouldn’t expect a subdued character drama like The Woodsman to feature auditory fireworks, and the film indeed stayed with laid-back material most of the time. To my surprise, it boasted both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. I’m not sure it needed any form of multichannel audio much less both of these varieties, but they’re there. Except for the fact the DTS mix was mastered at a slightly higher volume level, the pair sounded identical.

Music played the most significant role in the proceedings. The score used all five channels well and created a nice sense of the music. Effects almost always stayed in the ambient realm. The movie rarely needed them to do more than offer general environmental information, and that’s what we got. They created a decent feeling for the settings but weren’t more involving than that.

Audio quality was strong. Speech consistently came across as natural and crisp, and I noticed no problems connected to edginess or intelligibility. Effects always remained low-key but they were distinctive and accurate. No problems with distortion occurred, and the elements presented appropriate range. Since it worked the hardest, it was good that music sounded the best. The score and songs were always full-blooded and dynamic, and they presented quite solid bass response. There wasn’t enough action on display for the mix to merit above a “B-“, but the audio worked well for this sort of flick.

A small mix of extras rounds out the package. We find an audio commentary from director Nicole Kassell, as she offers a running, screen-specific discussion. At the start, Kassell tells us why she became interested in the project, and from there she talks about casting issues and working with the actors, sets and locations, adapting the play, music, research, editing and story decisions, interpretation, and the flick’s visual design.

Occasional lulls occur, but not enough to create a negative impact. Instead, Kassell usually presents an insightful look at her movie. She mixes a nice blend of nuts and bolts concerns with creative elements to provide a solid examination of the flick.

Next comes a five-minute featurette entitled Getting It Made. It presents movie clips, shots from the set, and comments from producer Lee Daniels. He goes over how he came onto the flick, taking on Kassell as director, casting Bacon, obtaining financing, and highs and lows that came with the flick. I figured “Made” would be your basic promotional piece, but happily, it’s a lot more substantial than that. Daniels gives us a good overview of his work and touches on a number of useful issues in this short but tight show.

In the collection of Deleted and Extended Scenes, we get one of the former and two of the latter. The totally cut “Walter and Vicki Almost Break Up” runs 110 seconds, while the elongated “Walter and Vicki At the River” goes for two minutes, 33 seconds and “Walter and Robin in Park #2” takes three minutes, 38 seconds. “Almost” is good, mainly because it gives us a little insight into Vicki’s side of things. “River” works less well, mostly because it veers toward melodrama, while “Park” comes across a little too much like a public service announcement about How to Deal with Child Abuse. Honestly, it also redeems Walter a little too much; I prefer the ambivalence of the final cut.

In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, the DVD presents a collection of Previews. We get ads for Boogeyman, DEBS, A Love Song for Bobby Long, Imaginary Heroes, PS, Silver City and William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venus. The Boogeyman and DEBS clips also appear at the start of the DVD.

A thoroughly absorbing character piece, The Woodsman casts Kevin Bacon as a man with a horrific past. Happily, it avoids basic condemnation or other simplistic viewpoints and paints a rich, involving examination of a haunted, flawed person. The DVD offers rather murky picture with basic but solid audio. The extras don’t dazzle, but a good audio commentary adds value. This is a deep and intriguing flick that comes with my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8181 Stars Number of Votes: 11
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