Harry Potter!
Cinema Signal:

Innocence Betrayed:
Paedophilia, the Media, and Society


. "The Woodsman"

Sometimes we can't escape our past. When that past includes deviant or abusive behavior, escaping it becomes a matter of fighting against the natural attitudes of others, which sometimes mirror one's own torments.

When Walter, a convicted child molester is returned to society after a 12-year sentence, he gets a good job in his prior profession at a wood shop. He has no idea if he's going to be capable of changing his nature. He's scared, lonely and frightened but determined to take it one day at a time. He doesn't much like his session with his court-appointed shrink, and even less the unannounced visits by Sergeant Lucas (Mos Def in a strong performance), but that's a part of returning to society he's got to accept.

His determination to do it alone begins a downward progression one day on the job when Mary-Kay (Eve), a personnel office worker, sits down next to him in the cafeteria and chats him up. You don't know anything about his past and he's just another good looking guy. But he rejects her advances and she takes it very personally. She probably considers it a black-white thing, as well.

But, the attentions of the rather butch fork lift operator Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick) is another matter. Her general aloofness proves an attraction to Walter, as though her beauty, camouflaged under grundgy work clothes, bad hair, etc., weren't enough. He says something to her; she blows him off as just another horny guy. But his quiet internalism gets to her and, when she offers him a ride home one evening, we know a mutual attraction is in the works. As it grows, it mixes in with the demons working inside Walter. When things reach a level of trust and a possible future between them he faces up to the very difficult responsibility to reveal his terrible past. She reacts to it as any of us might. She runs.

Through all this, brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) shows up repeatedly out of loyalty to Walter who stood up for him when he wanted to marry his sister. Now, he's in the position of playing intermediary between the siblings since his wife is reluctant to have anything to do with Walter... just yet. She has a young daughter of her own.

Back on the job, things are about to disintegrate. Mary-Kay, having taken note of Walter and Vickie relating to each other, sets out to make trouble, proving how vindictive and vicious she can be and how vulnerable someone in Walter's position is.

This is a finely crafted study of a most delicate subject, asking perhaps if a sex criminal deserves a chance at rehabilitation. Can you possibly feel for this guy? While director Nicole Kassell and writer Steven Fechter tastefully and cautiously raise the question they studiouly avoid tipping the balance between sympathy for their hero and a hot button issue that could easily make him hateful. Bacon's delicacy is in a portrayal of a man who is struggling as much with his own weakness as society struggles with people who do what his character has done. His job, which he essentially accomplishes, is to let us see signs of common humanity.

The key to that door is that he's a man who is as objective about his own shameful conduct as anyone else. When he stalks a girl of an age that makes her a prime target, he is appalled to learn from the 10-year old that she's being fondled by her own father. The loathing he feels causes Walter to see his own urges in terms of disgust and condemnation. He backs off.

This moment is designed to clarify his internal struggle and to draws us to him. In the case of this particular child molester, sympathy blunts rejection as we witness his battle between predatory behavior and rehabilitation.

Insofar as society hasn't found an acceptable way to permanently incarcerate any but the most deviant and insane members of this slimy group, some exploration of their re-entry into society is worthwhile. This serious piece of work provides heartfelt performances and well crafted drama in an effort to weigh the subject's distasteful realities.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon
A relationship with an extreme problem


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