starring Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Eve, Mos Def
screenplay by Steven Fechter and Nicole Kassell
directed by Nicole Kassell
by Walter Chaw An impossibly-conflicted film about the impossibly complicated issue of child sex offenders (that is, their recovery, recidivism, and release), Nicole Kassell's The Woodsman retreats, perhaps understandably, into the refuge of allegory. Before it does, though, Kevin Bacon's hollowed-out, haunted performance as a man released from prison with an indelible human stain moors the picture in a strong, melancholy reality. He moves in across the street from an elementary school, gets a job in a lumber yard, and befriends a woman (Kyra Sedgwick) who, a little too conveniently, suffered at the hands of molesters somewhere back down the road. Things start to fall apart as a new pederast begins to circle and a suspicious detective (Mos Def, mos def) starts making surprise visits. The Woodsman's vision, courtesy that all-too-rarity of a female writer-director, is beautifully shot and, as it should be, bleak: the world is an ugly, dangerous place--especially for little girls, Kassell suggests. It's a hard message told in an uncompromising way, at least it is until the film's final act, where a reference to the "Little Red Riding Hood" story, already signified by the title, is dragged kicking and screaming into the text, dispelling the starkness of its reality in favour of an ending that suggests big closets and the kind of rosy optimism the rest of the film's done such a masterful job of shaking. It's a problem--and not a small one--that the lingering last shots of The Woodsman include temptation in the rearview and the monster turned, however briefly, into the woodsman hero of a fairy tale that doesn't entirely deserve its happy ending. Originally published: October 16, 2004.