The Woodsman (2004)

I have mixed feelings about this film. It attempts to portray a convicted pedophile from a nonjudgmental point of view. Given this controversial topic, it was obviously a gutsy move by the director and producer to make this film, and probably even gutsier for Kevin Bacon to agree to play the main role. However, there is much to dislike about this movie, and I am going to dwell on some of the negative aspects in this commentary.

The basic storyline is that the released pedophile, Walter, experiences several situations that allow him to gain insight into the harmful effects of his behavior, and (perhaps?) lead to his ultimate redemption. The first problem I have with this film is that the plotline used to bring about these events is contrived to the nth degree. Consider the odds that in real life Walter, a convicted pedophile, would be released from prison and then: 1) move into an apartment across the street from a grade school; and 2) another “apparent” pedophile would be lurking on the street in front of that same school every day trying to entice children into his car by offering them candy; and 3) Walter would become involved in a personal/sexual relationship with a women, and then have her reveal that she had been sexually abused by her brothers when she was a child; and 4) Walter would stalk a young girl, following her to a park, but at the pivotal moment before molesting her, be stopped when she reveals to him that her own father is sexually abusing her.

Sure seems to be a lot of sexual abuse/pedophilia/incest surrounding this individual! For me the contrived nature of all of these events became an irritant that impeded my ability to appreciate the psychological character/personality aspects of the storyline.

A more fundamental problem for me is that I found one of the pivotal events that served as the turning point in Walter’s transformation to be ethically disgusting. Here is my synopsis of what is portrayed: A policeman who has obvious contempt for Walter visits him in his apartment. Later, Walter looks out the window of his apartment and observes a man trying to talk with and/or give candy to young boys walking to or from school. One day Walter sees the man drive off with one of the boys in his car and return to drop the boy off later. Walter then accosts the man on the street and beats him up viciously. The same policeman who previously expressed contempt for Walter visits him again. This time the policeman, with a wink and a nod, expresses the feeling that he has heard what happened and maybe Walter is not as bad as he had previously thought. Walter, having undergone transformation and redemption apparantly lives happily ever after.

Here is my synopsis of the moral of this story: If you observe some behavior that you interpret as potentially being that of a pedophilic predator, the appropriate response is to beat the crap out of that suspected pedophile. That makes you a better person. If you were previously a bad person (even if you were a pedophile yourself), this violent act might even have the power to bring about redemption for your past bad behavior.

Here is another interpretation of what might have actually happened. The person standing down on the street might have been the child’s father or grandfather, unable to visit the child due to estrangement from the mother following a separation or divorce. The father/grandfather stands on the street every day offering gifts and trying to reestablish contact with the child. One day he succeeds in convincing the boy to go with him to have an ice cream cone and talk. After returning, he is accosted on the street by a thug who beats the crap out of him.

Here, is a response Walter could have made that I would have found more ethically appropriate. If he had suspicions that the person on the street was a potential danger to the children, he should have reported that fact to the police or school authorities. They could have then taken measures to assess the facts of the case and take action, as appropriate, to protect the children. Unlike the theatrical grandstanding of beating the crap out of this individual AFTER observing the child get out of the car, reporting the concern earlier might have actually protected the child BEFORE he got in the car. That kind of quiet action, combined with a renunciation of his prior pedophilic behavior and a commitment to not re-offend in the future, might have made Walter a potentially transformed and redeemed person in my mind. Unfortunately, the Walter portrayed in the movie did not impress me as either transformed or particularly worthy of redemption.

I gave this movie a rating of 2 stars
Ron Boothe