The Woodsman (2004)
Woodman, Woodman, Spare That Three Year Old
25 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
A good friend of mine has a built-in aversion verging on phobia against manipulative movies to the extent that it blinded her to the brilliance of Million Dollar Baby and I'm dreading what she will make of this. On the other hand she could reply that I am overly susceptible to manipulation at the hands of skilled, professional movie makers and both of us may be right. However like the man said difference of opinion is what makes horse races so we can take this one right to Aqueduct. From her point of view there's manipulation in spades. Walter (Kevin Bacon) is just out of the Joint after drawing 12 years for, in his own words, molesting little girls. He takes a job in a lumber yard (heavy use of title symbolism although THAT woodsman is the one in the fairy tale who cuts the girl out of the wolf's stomach. Right off he rejects the advances of Mary-Kay - played by an actress known simply as Eve and if THAT isn't an omen what is - who is one of those egoists who figure that any guy who rejects them must have a secret that needs exposing. Adding to Walter's burden is Sgt Lucas (Mos Def - where do the GET these names from?) who's a graduate of the give-a-dog-a-bad-name school of detection and enjoys nothing more than hassling Walter and delivering sloppy script points like asking Walter where he was at such a time and such a day when a girl was molested and THEN telling Walter that every move he (Walter) makes has been observed since he left the slammer, illustrating that by definition Walter could NOT have been involved in the alleged molestation. Just by way of an extra handicap Walter can only find a room right across the street from a school playground, which is not unlike a compulsive gambler taking a room at Caesar's Palace. The Book of Job isn't in it as Walter is denounced anonymously by Eve to add to the rest of his troubles. All the reviews I read in the National Press - unqualified raves to a man -made the same point, that we are being asked to empathize with a paedophile and wind up actually doing so. The film resembles nothing so much a a Wounded Bird Convention beginning with Walter himself then taking in Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick, Bacon's real-life wife) who has a tale of her own to trade for his, as a girl she was sexually abused by not one but THREE brothers, and winding up with Robin (Hannah Pilkes) the eleven year old girl befriended (if that's the right word) by Walter, who reveals obliquely that she is being abused by her father. There's not a bad performance in the whole film but I'm reminded of the now notorious comment by critic Brooks Atkinson when reviewing the first performance of Pal Joey on Broadway. After noting the excellence of the Rodgers and Hart score and the fine singing and acting on display he concluded by asking 'can you draw sweet water from a foul well?' From the comments I've seen posted here I'd have to say Yes.
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