Can we forgive the unforgivable? A man named Walter (Kevin Bacon) has served 12 years for child molestation. Now he's out--on probation--and trying to make a life for himself. He works in a lumberyard. Vickie, a good, tough-talking woman (Kyra Sedgwick, Bacon's real-life wife), is interested in him. But curiously, he takes an apartment across from a school yard. Less curiously, the police, his sister and those fellow workers who know of his past suspect that he will not be able to stay clean. And Walter himself, intermittently assailed by his old lusts, is not entirely certain on that point either.
From those potentially explosive materials, director and co-scriptwriter (with Steven Fechter, who wrote the play) Nicole Kassell has fashioned a cool, minimalist and absolutely terrific little film called The Woodsman, in which Bacon, that most believable (and underappreciated) actor, struggles almost silently--certainly without melodramatic fervor--against the suspicious world, against his ever present demons. Sedgwick is equally good as the patient but no-nonsense woman trying to see him as he now is--basically a good man--instead of what he once was.
The result is a marvelously controlled yet very sympathetic film. We are never quite sure about Walter, especially when he begins following a little girl. And chatting her up. The threat to him, to her, is real. And it creates in us a very itchy unease. We fully believe two contradictory things about Walter: that he means to be good and that he could go bad. It is a rare movie that so neatly, so unpretentiously insinuates such a conflict in a character, and it is equally rare for an actor to suggest that inner turmoil as subtly as Bacon does. This is a very small film, easy to overlook among the end-of-the-year behemoths. Do not do so. It is among the best and most delicately managed films of the year. --By Richard Schickel