Clear Cut (a.k.a., The Woodsman)
In gritty, 1970s indie style, Kassell's The Woodsman is a complicated, grown-up "Bad Seed" focusing on Walter (Bacon), a child-molester re-entering civilian life after 12 years in prison. Do men as far gone as he - whether made that way by being abuse themselves or not - have any unlikelihood of making real change. Can Walter?
We first see him in a blighted Philadelphia area, where bars play vintage 1970s' funk, and he finds a job cutting wood, just after his release from prison. Estranged from his sister, and living in a cell-like apartment convenient to a junior high school, he finds company only in visits from a cop (Def) convinced of his impending recidivism, his oddly accepting brother in-law (Bratt), and Vickie (Sedgwick), who not only takes Walter as her lover, but, on learning of his past, asks him to move in with her.
Vickie, repeatedly raped as a child, might hope that with Walter she (and maybe he) can confront their complementary pasts. Walters self-loathing, shown as he window-gazes another predator who hangs around the school and tempts students with treats, is palpable. When Walter meets a preteen-age girl (Pilkes) who fulfills his pathological specifications, it incites a turn of dramatic justice: She too is an abuse victim. The next scenes comprise the films disturbing presentations of honesty, and the reason for its many kudos.
Kassell's ambitious goal is to humanize a repetitive child rapist; he claims, I never hurt them. Does Walter believe his own pathological denial? His not repeating it suggests he believes it more firmly than imaginable. The Woodsman's most haunting images come from Bacon, whose aging face is still that of an all-American boy; his Walter seems to collapse upon himself as he fights for self-control. When he flashes his winning smile, the viewer is relieved that Walter is finally feeling relief. But the smile only turns on when Walter is near the children he lusts after. On-screen for only minutes but every bit as good as Bacon and Sedgwick is the suspicious Sgt. Lucas (Def), who makes profound suggestions with one inflected phrase, or in the unexpected downturn of a single word. Kassell has a way with actors, and uses composition and tone very well. The disturbing aspects of this movie provoke our deepest thinking, and prompt us to seek solutions for the social problems it examines.
Nicole Kassell with Steven Fechter
Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Mos Def, Benjamin Bratt, and David Alan Grier
child-molesters, Philadelphia, Bad Seed
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