Comparisons to "Mystic River" are obvious as Kevin Bacon shifts from the role of a Boston cop entangled in a murder case involving child molesters to the much deeper role of an actual child molester in "The Woodsman."

Released from prison after 12 years, Walter (Bacon) lands a job in a Philadelphia lumberyard, moves into a shabby apartment across from a schoolyard, and waits through the long, aching hours for his healing to begin. His brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) makes a vague attempt to reach out, but he is reluctant to let Walter meet his 12 year-old niece. Co-worker Vicki (Bacon's wife Kyra Sedgwick) becomes friendly with him, and a cop (Mos Def) is personally invested in bringing Walter down.

Everyone spends every minute waiting for Walter to slip, none more so than Walter himself. When he gets off his bus and follows a young girl (Hannah Pilkes) into the park, we understand that he can't help himself.

Extremely difficult to watch, "The Woodsman" is a movie that many will praise for its courage. Yet the courage of its subject matter and the courage of its artistry don't mesh. Making her feature debut, director and co-writer Nicole Kassell has too soft a touch. Many scenes succeed with their startling hush, but others fall with a thud. Kassell often reaches too far; she hasn't the conviction to allow us to meet her halfway.

Regardless, there's no question that Bacon has achieved something truly unique with this performance -- an empathetic struggle between monster and man.



" Weak "

Rating: R, LIMITED: Friday, December 24, 2004


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