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Zettel Film Reviews » The Woodsman – thoughtful, challenging, sensitive.

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The Woodsman – thoughtful, challenging, sensitive.

obsession

obsession

The Woodsman – Nicole Kassell

The Woodsman looks as if it may suffer the same fate as a number of good recent films with difficult topics – very limited distribution. It will be shameful if this fine, beautifully judged, thought-provoking film does not reach the wide audience it deserves. So this is a heads up: you may have to look out for it and not expect more than a one week run at best.

Based on a screenplay by Steven Fechter from his own play, and directed with great assurance and perceptiveness by relative newcomer Nicole Kassell, this sombre, sober, but utterly absorbing movie takes a grown up look at one of our few remaining deep social taboos – paedophilia. And indirectly, relevantly, but tangentally – incest. This treatment is neither meretricious nor prurient. Thanks to an extraordinary, brave, sustained performance by Kevin Bacon, this is a film of real humanity, not averting its gaze from the uncomfortable truth that in at least this case, a paedophile can be a real human being struggling desperately with a hateful behavioural compulsion and the consequences of past failure to control it.

As the father of two, now grown up kids, this is a tough deal for me to buy into comfortably. But the quiet, thoughtful, integrity of tone and purpose of this sensibly not over-long film, simply overcomes such worries. This is a film about a deeply flawed man struggling to deal with his life; not a didactic, judgmental treatment of a repulsive, which it is, illness or aberration (you pays your money and takes your choice) of which this individual is just an example. It is an at times, uncomfortable, uneasy examination of one of the dark corners of our culture which we know is there but on which we would rather close the door than shine a light. Inevitably it poses a uniquely difficult challenge to men to think about.

So: not a light night out at the movies. But if we take film as perhaps the definitive popular art form of the last 50 years or so, this is a work of serious artistic aspiration and genuine achievement. A last word on Kevin Bacon’s performance. There is such a lot of nonsense talked about ‘brave’ acting performances. This time it is justified: there can be no career benefits out of being this good at portraying a paedophile. To sustain a performance this well, with no subtle signals of disavowal of character, is truly impressive.

I can fully sympathise with the view that says – no thanks, just not what I want to deal with through a movie. However for anyone who wants to see the movie, this review is intended as a signal that our stupid system of distribution may require you to keep a good look out for it. It is well worth the effort.

Zettel 2005

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