Kevin Bacon Went Against His Own Plan By Saying Yes To The Woodsman

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The subject of pedophilia is one of the hardest topics to tackle in movies. One film that shook me to the core when I first saw it was Sidney Lumet’s “The Offence,” a bleak drama starring Sean Connery as a detective who beats a suspected child molester to death during an interrogation. It is eventually revealed that the frazzled copper harbors his own deviant fantasies. I was totally shocked, but, in retrospect, I realized that I was more troubled by the idea that 007 could play such a character rather than the actual conclusion of the film itself.

Growing up in Britain in the ’80s and ’90s, it felt like there was a predator lurking by every playground gate. This in part was related to grim public information films forever warning us not to go off with strangers, but stoked even further by the media uproar that accompanied the most notorious child abuse cases.

Those anxieties are, of course, justified to a certain extent, but tabloid clamor is often so overbearing that it clouds our ability to understand the affliction in a rational sense. Some might argue that pedophiles don’t warrant any understanding, but it is much worse to sensationalize their crimes to sell papers. The satirical current event show “Brass Eye” controversially took the media to task on this with its “Paedogeddon” special, ruthlessly parodying their rabid coverage of child sex offenders.

In short, it is sometimes hard to find a thoughtful and balanced examination of the affliction. Perhaps the best I’ve seen is “The Woodsman,” starring Kevin Bacon in a career-best performance as a reformed pedophile. For all the plaudits he received, it was the kind of role he wanted to give a wide berth at the time.

So What Happens In The Woodsman Again?

Walter (Kevin Bacon) is a child molester who has just been released after serving 12 years for his crimes. He heads home to Philadelphia where his friends and family have all turned their backs on him. Trying to find a place to live, he finds that most landlords don’t want an ex-convict as a tenant; the one that is prepared to let it slide leases him an apartment across the road from an elementary school.

Walter understands that his previous actions were deeply wrong and he is determined to go straight; at the same time, he fears that his compulsions might be too strong for him to resist. He gets a job at a lumber mill and starts seeing a woman called Vicki (played by Bacon’s wife, Kyra Sedgewick), who seems to see something better in him. From his apartment window, Walter spots another man offering candy to young boys and recognizes him as another child molester. Even when he sees “Candy” luring a kid away, he is unable to alert the police.

Walter’s situation gets critical due to two incidents. First, a co-worker finds out about his past and posts his criminal record on the mill notice board, provoking some guys to attack him. Even more worryingly, he starts to befriend a young girl in the park and feels his old temptations emerging. Can Walter control his impulses and also help bring Candy to justice?

“The Woodsman” is a somber and expertly acted character study, sensitively and courageously handled by Nicole Kassell in her directorial debut. She is aided in her task by Kevin Bacon at his best, who neither leans toward portraying Walter as a monster nor asks for the audience’s pity. How he was overlooked come awards season, I’ll never know.

Kevin Bacon Originally Had Reservations About The Woodsman

By the time “The Woodsman” came along, Kevin Bacon had already developed a reputation as one of Hollywood’s best character actors having broken out of his earlier, funnier ’80s roles with an eye-catching cameo in “JFK.” Although the actor is usually unafraid of tackling darker material, he still held back when it came to Nicole Kassell’s challenging drama. He remembered (via The Independent):

“If you’d asked me at the time, was I interested in playing a sex offender I would’ve said no… I did it in ‘Sleepers,’ I was just coming off ‘Mystic River,’ which thematically was about bad things happening to children, and I was just about to direct Kyra in a movie that was also, if not about sexual abuse, about children getting into sad, sad situations. It was exactly the opposite of what I was looking for. I wanted to do something mainstream, I wanted to do something heroic, I wanted to get paid. You know, I didn’t want to step into dark, indie world. But it was great material. It was like it chose me.'”

Taking a role as a pedophile might give any actor pause, but Bacon made some brave choices with his portrayal, not least that he wanted to play Walter as an “Everyman.” That decision is the strongest part of the film; he’s not some loathsome little creep or a menacing figure prowling in the shadows, he’s just a seemingly regular guy who is unfortunate enough to be afflicted by such horrible tendencies. 

“The Woodsman” is a deeply uncomfortable watch, but it is one of those rare films that tackle the harrowing subject without an ounce of sensationalism. It is something the tabloids could learn from.

Read this next: The 15 Best Anthony Hopkins Roles Ranked

The post Kevin Bacon Went Against His Own Plan By Saying Yes To The Woodsman appeared first on /Film.

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