The Woodsman

The Woodsman

What kind of character do you suppose would top the American moviegoing public’s list of hardest to sympathize with? Not far down from “Islamic terrorist,” I suspect, would be the protagonist of Nicole Kassell’s gritty and disturbing debut film, The Woodsman-a character so universally loathed that portraying him constitutes an act of cinematic courage for director and actor alike.

Shot in Philadelphia, The Woodsman surveys a hard-bitten urban world of blue-collar work, grimy apartments, rowdy bars, and reckless romances in which having some major blemishes on one’s past generally adds to the allure. Kevin Bacon plays Walter, the new hire at the lumberyard, a grim-faced loner doing his work and looking to talk to nobody. “So what did he do, the new guy?” gossips a nosy secretary in the office. “Drugs? Armed robbery? Manslaughter?” A sassy and rebellious coworker, Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick), is drawn to Walter’s air of hard-knocks mystery, and undertakes to seduce him. “Are you going to tell me your dark secret?” she teases. “I’m not easily shocked.” Finally, with their romance well underway, Walter does tell her. “I molested little girls,” he confesses. In fact, he has just finished serving twelve years in prison for it.

Anxiety over child molestation is rampant in today’s America, a society roiled by a pedophile priest scandal and queasy about its own habit of exploiting adolescent sexuality in...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper is Commonweal's contributing editor.