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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Woodsman
The Woodsman
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // April 12, 2005
List Price: $26.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Scott Lecter | posted May 22, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
There are some films that are difficult to watch because they're filled with intense, gory violence, and there are some films that are difficult to watch simply because of their subject matter. The Woodsman is one of the latter. Not only does the film involve one of the most difficult-to-watch subject matters - child molestation - but it also contains one of the most unsettling scenes in recent memory. It may be well crafted and expertly acted, but the fact remains there is a certain number of people who simply will not be able to watch the film purely on the fact that it breaches some very taboo subjects in a very realistic and painful manner. And, to be completely honest, I can't blame them.

First-time Director Nicole Kassell rarely pulls punches in The Woodsman as she tells the story of a convicted child molester, fresh out of jail, just trying to live his life, go to work, and be accepted as a changed man. What she lacks in experience, Kassell makes up for in smart casting nearly all the way around. Kevin Bacon gives a lifetime performance in a role that few actors would have even considered taking for fear of it absolutely killing their career. In every single frame of the film, Walter looks like a beaten man. His eyes are filled with anger and resentment at what he's done in the past, and his body language reveals a man that has spent a long time behind bars thinking about what he's done. He's suspicious of everyone (including himself) and rarely lets his guard down. The one time in the film that he truly does become vulnerable, it doesn't exactly end well. Bacon is able to capture the despair in his character in a remarkable way by allowing the audience to straddle a fine line between feeling sympathy and hatred. And a scene near the conclusion of the film solidifies this struggle, as it shows that Walter isn't quite so sure he doesn't hate himself.

Aside from Bacon we have two fine performances from Mos Def and Benjamin Bratt. Mos Def is slowly becoming an actor to watch, and his performance in The Woodsman shows that he's just get better with every role. His laid-back, suspicious detective is one of the highlights of the film. Bratt plays Walter's brother-in-law with a guarded sense of hope that Bacon's character is reformed. He desperately wants his wife to have a relationship with her brother, but is always wary that it may never actually happen. There's too much past and too many things have happened. He knows they can't go back and take it away. Even David Alan Grier's turn as Walter's boss shows the usually comedic actor's range.

Kassell's casting choices, however, are not all good. Eve's character seems a bit too heavy for her to handle. Someone a bit more experienced may have played it with more nuance and depth. Instead, Eve makes her character come across as a bit too one-note. And despite her proven acting abilities, the casting of Kyra Sedgwick (Bacon's real-life wife) does nothing to make the film any better. The fact that Bacon and Sedgwick share a bed in real-life not only makes it difficult to understand the obvious shorthand between them, but it also makes Sedgwick's character seem too simple in the film. We never see her character really struggle with her decision to be with Walter. Sure, she flinches a bit when he tells her of his past indiscretions, and they spend some time apart throughout the film, but it never really seems like she disapproves or even questions the fact that they're together. Had a different played the role, the immediate connection with Bacon would not have existed, making it much easier to struggle with his character's past.

The Woodsman, nevertheless, does have its merits. It's certainly a heart wrenching and difficult film, but a rewarding one if you can get through it. The chance to see what Walter has to go through upon his release from prison is incredibly interesting, and I assume it's probably very close to what it must be like for someone like that in real life. It raises several questions about reform, forgiveness, and society's willingness to look past someone's mistakes and judge them for who they have become. If the film is any indication of reality, then I don't expect many convicted sex offenders have it very easy (nor should they). The fact remains, however, that people do change and I truly believe that people can reform. The stigma attached with whatever they've done, on the other hand, will never go away and they must deal with those consequences for the rest of their life. Through the perspective of Walter, we get to see that these people have to deal with these consequences every single day, in the most subtle and obvious ways.

For a first-time director, Nicole Kassell should be applauded for making a film that provides an absolutely unflinching look at one of life's most difficult subjects. The Woodsman gives us a glimpse through the eyes of someone who made a terrible mistake at one time and, although they want to be forgiven and accepted by society, isn't quite sure that he can keep from making that same mistake again. Which all leads up to that very uncomfortable scene near the end of the film. The Woodsman may not be a popcorn movie or one that really cries out for repeat viewings, but if you can handle the subject matter, it's definitely a film worth seeing at least once.


The Woodsman is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 format that could have used a nice clean up. Some leeway should be given to this independent film, but a quick once-over by Columbia/Tri-Star (now Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) could have fixed most of the problems with this transfer. The major problem is the amount of grain that appears at times throughout the film. Some grain is surely inherent in the source elements, but there are some low-light situations that are simply riddled with it to the point where it's slightly distracting. There are also a fair amount of dirt, spots, and scratches on the print that could easily have been cleaned up. On the other hand, flesh tones are accurate and certain colors do come across as vibrant and bright (the red ball Walter picks up comes to mind). The film itself, however, has a very dark tone and muted color palette that is nicely represented here. Detail is a bit soft at times, but blacks are usually deep and rich. There are no signs of edge enhancement or halos to speak of, and overall this is an adequate visual presentation that could have been much better with a little more care.

The audio on this disc is presented in both DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 formats, which both do a fine job of handling the demands of the dialogue-heavy soundtrack. The DTS track has a bit more ambience and a more enveloping feel to it, while the Dolby Digital track sports slightly higher levels in the center channel's dialogue. Either way, the differences are negligible, but my track of choice is the DTS 5.1. Aside from clear, crisp dialogue, the surround channels mostly work to help bolster the soundtrack. There aren't really any surround effects to speak of, and the low-end is mostly quiet throughout, but overall this is a nicely balanced soundtrack that is more than adequate for a film like The Woodsman.

Along with some great menus on this disc, there are also a few nice extra features.

The first, and best, feature is an audio commentary with Director Nicole Kassell. She's very chatty and provides a lot of information about the making of the film and some of its influences. Kassell stays mostly screen-specific but does take the time to talk about a few anecdotes from the set. Kassell has a bit of a monotone voice that makes the track slightly less entertaining than it probably could have been, but for her first commentary track, she provides a great deal of useful information. While she spends a bit too much time simply explaining what's on the screen, Kassell does a good job of talking about many different aspects of the film. Nevertheless, this track is still a worthwhile that ends up being more informative than entertaining.

Also included on this disc is a 5-minute featurette called "Getting it Made," which is basically just an interview with Producer Lee Daniels mixed in with a few brief behind-the-scenes clips from the film. Daniels tells the basic story of how the film came together, how it got financed, and some of his highs and lows throughout the process. He's a bit of a strange character that speaks softly, but the featurette is a nice, albeit brief, addition to the film. I only wish it would sound a bit better and not be quite so short.

We also have one deleted scene and two extended scenes included on this disc. None of these scenes contain much of real consequence, but it's interesting to watch an extended version of what I found to be the most unsettling scene in the entire film.

Finally, there is the theatrical trailer for The Woodsman, and seven trailers for A Love Song for Bobby Long, Boogeyman, D.E.B.S., Imaginary Heroes, P.S., Silver City, and William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.

Final Thoughts:
The thing that really frightens people about sex offenders (and especially child molesters) is that they often look just like everyone else. They don't have horns or a tail, and they don't carry around flaming red pitchforks. Instead, they're normal people that simply have no moral compass. Can they be reformed in jail and sent back out into society again? It's a difficult question and I'm not sure, but that's also not really for me to answer. The only thing most of us can do is try to put ourselves in that person's shoes and see what it must be like to live in society after committing a crime as heinous as child molestation. The Woodsman doesn't answer explicitly answer these questions either, but it does at least provide us that very opportunity to see what it must be like for a convicted sex offender. It's a difficult thing to watch, but it's also something that most people never get to see. Based on that - and the fact that we have some nice extra material included - this disc comes as recommended. The Woodsman may be controversial and somewhat depressing, but it's worth watching at least once or twice.

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