Monday, August 22, 2005

Movie Review: The Woodsman By Kirk Bage

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Second in an ill-fitting double bill last night was Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman - equally brilliant as Garden State, but for Very different reasons. I talked about looking out for this one months ago when it was announced that he was going to do it, but it can't even have lasted a week at the box office and was very easy to miss. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out, then, that this sunk without a trace not because it is bad, but because of the subject matter - one of Hollywood's last taboos, child abuse. Based on the play of the same name and brought to the screen by rookie director Nicole Kassell as something of a passion project, long time husband and wife Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick adopt serious, understated and consistently convincing personas as the former abuser trying to put his life back together amidst prejudice, hatred and fear and the woman who is prepared to give him a chance. We are asked as an audience not to forgive or justify, but simply to understand and the compelling script allows us to do that, as does a central performance that is certain to gain momentum in after-the-event criticism once initial discomfort subsides. At times theatrical, using devices such as a new abuser that Bacon watches and ultimately confronts (when we finally see the centre of his frustration as he visualizes beating himself up) and a cop of ambiguous morality (played with some panache by Mos Def, who although good, seemed to be playing in the wrong movie) which do detract from the realism Bacon and Sedgewick achieve so effortlessly in earlier scenes, nevertheless, this is powerful stuff worthy of intelligent debate and a success by its own standards. Also interesting to note how lesser performances fared much better at the years' numerous awards festivals - Bacon's bravery in confronting such a role should have been commended and acknowledged much more than the sole nod for best male lead from the Independent Spirit Awards. Sadly, this proves to me that it is still an industry much more full of "stars" with images to maintain and politics to protect than genuine artists with things to say. Despite all that, I highly recommend this film and hope that Bacon's career is full of these kind of choices. 8/10

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