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Film / The Woodsman

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A 2004 drama film directed by Nicole Kassell and starring Kevin Bacon. It was adapted from the play of the same name by Steven Fechter, who cowrote the screenplay adaptation with Kassell.

Walter (Bacon), a convicted child molester, returns to his hometown after 12 years in prison, gets a job in a lumberyard and attempts to start a new life. Terrified of his co-workers finding out about his past, he mostly keeps to himself, until he meets the tough-talking Vicki (Kyra Sedgwick), who promises not to judge him for his history. But Walter himself cannot escape his past and the reawakening demons inside of him.

A small, quiet drama that neither downplays nor judges its protagonist. And it really lives through Bacon's great acting in a surely very difficult role to play.


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This film provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Expected from a film about a child molester fighting his inner demons and getting closer and closer to an 11-year-old girl. But the prize goes to "Candy", who casually earns the trust of young boys and takes them for a ride in his car...
  • All Abusers Are Male: Walter, "Candy", Vicki's brothers, Robin's father... even the worker in the lumbermill who is abusive toward Vicki.
  • All Just a Dream: Walter is often shown in situations involving kids. Most of the time it's revealed that he's daydreaming and fighting against his dark side.
  • Anti-Hero: Walter is a former child molester, so depending on the viewer's opinion, he can be either an Unscrupulous Hero with vigilante tendencies, or an outright Anti-Villain with his temptations toward minors.
  • The Atoner: Walter. He really wants to pay back for his past deeds. Going by a vision of himself getting the beating while attacking "Candy", he hates himself for what he did.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Carlos is the only person who didn't turn his back on Walter, because Walter was the only one who didn't turn his back on Carlos when the latter married Walter's sister.
    Walter: You know, you're the only member of the family still speaking to me.
    Carlos: Yeah, well, I remember when they all gave Annette shit because she married the brown-skinned boy from down the street. Except her brother.
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    • The relationship between Vicki and Walter starts thanks to this.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mary-Kay falls squarely under this. Under that sugar-coated smile hides a manipulative personality. She never stops snooping around Walter with truly unhealthy fixation about him and then unleashes a hate campaign against him that almost turns into a lynch. Never mind Walter doing his best to start a new life with a clean slate, she deliberately ruins his chance to do so, with a flimsy excuse of "because everyone should know".
  • Bittersweet Ending: Walter's secret is out, his family and friends still refuse to forgive him, but Walter is optimistic that he can change.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Vicki was a victim of this. From all of her three brothers .
  • Color Motif: Robin's red jacket, an echo of Little Red Riding Hood.
  • Cut Apart: In one scene both Walter and Vicki are looking through window, like they are observing each other, culminating with Vicki asking what someone is looking at. Then it's revealed they are just looking at their own reflections in glass.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Both Walter and Vicki. Probably also Lucas.
  • Dark Is Evil: Thanks to casting, the only hostile and abusive characters—Lucas and Mary-Kay—are played by black people.
    • The same may apply in a comparison of Vicki and Mary-Kay, with the fair-skinned blonde as "good", and the black woman as "evil".
    • Lucas is a subversion. While hostile to and disgusted by Walter, he's also very conversational, talking furniture and plants. At the very least, he's Affably Evil mixed with Knight Templar. He's not a villain by any measure, and has a right to be suspicious of Walter. And in the end, it's obvious that Lucas knows that Walter is the one who assaulted "Candy", yet he leaves him alone because he sees that Walter did the right thing.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Walter's main weapon against the rest of the world. Vicki quickly proves she's no slouch either when it comes to being snarky.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: By his own choice, Walter sits alone in the mill's cafeteria.
  • Freudian Excuse: Vicki's very strong reactions toward abuse comes from her brothers molesting her.
  • Gender Is No Object: Vicki is working as hard as anyone else in the lumbermill.
  • Hidden Depths: In one scene, Lucas talks about contemporary furniture and wood. In another scene, he warns Walter about the amount of sunlight his ivy is getting.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Walter is constantly afraid that he won't ever be able to call himself a normal person.
  • Let Off by the Detective: It's heavily hinted that Lucas knew who beat "Candy" and can prove that. Yet he leaves Walter alone.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Walter is joking about taking Vicki for a dyke, and she later jokes about not being a lesbian tonight... or was it a joke?
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Lucas is more than hostile toward Walter. Thanks to later scenes, his attitude is more and more explained. In the end, his relationship with Walter is a form of very, very Odd Friendship.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Walter on "Candy". Part from it comes from being a Vigilante Man, and part from Walter's hatred toward himself—for a short moment, he sees the fight as if he's beating himself.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: "Candy".
  • Parental Incest: Robin. The Squick factor of this reveal is beyond scale.
  • Prison Rape: Implied with Walter, who freaks out when his therapist starts talking behind his back. He was in prison for over a decade, so it is likely. And Truth in Television, since other prisoners don't particularly like pedophiles, leading many to be segregated for their own safety.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Mostly averted due to the movie's morally-neutral tone, but Walter's disturbing conversation with Robin falls into this. The scene is framed to show that Walter's done a good thing and reinforces the redemption arc, but he sends her home knowing full well what's going to happen to her there. It comes off as though he doesn't care about her as much as he cares about not intruding on another man's property, but it still implies that he's made a positive step and that's what really matters.
  • Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Vicki can be best described as adult tomboy. Plus she works in a lumberyard, so dresses would be highly inpractical.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Bob. While he isn't pleased with hiring Walter, he did it because of Walter's skills and experience as carpenter. All he wants from his workers is that they do their job. And he's one of two people defending Walter when Mary-Kay's campaign against him reaches its peak.
    Bob: What the hell is goin' on here? (looking at paper with Walter's criminal record) Who did this? (Beat) Any man who can't deal with it, you meet me in the office. I'll pay you for the week. You can clear the fuck out.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: Essentially the whole plot.
  • Repeat Cut: When "Candy" takes the boy to his car, the moment the doors of the car are closed is repeated few times.
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Walter shelters himself from other people, but deep down is fighting against inevetable depression, further fueled by how lonely he is.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Walter was moments away from this when his coworkers found out about his past, but narrowly subverted thanks to his interaction with Robin.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. Walter is under constant supervision by his therapist and said therapist helps him "to be normal". It's hard, it's slow-going, and Walter doesn't trust his shrink, but it works.
  • Title Drop: When Lucas is talking with Walter about Red Riding Hood, he focuses mostly on the Woodsman saving the girl from the wolf. This also gives Walter the strength to fight back his desires.
    • And in the end, Walter is the Woodsman when he attacks "Candy", which alerts the police to Candy's presence.
  • Tomboy: Vicki. Hard working, hard drinking hardass with a foul mouth.
  • Women Are Wiser: Vicki is probably the only person who not only accepts Walter, but really cares about him.
    • Averted with Mary-Kay.
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