"I see something in you. Something good. You don't see it yet, but I do."
Every time the door to his apartment gets knocked on, we feel that Walter's patience dwindles by another percentage. Serenity in his solitude is something he initially sets out for.
Solemn grace inside his own walls, not the walls of a prison sentence on a 12 year stretch.
Kevin Bacon stars in the total opposite of himself the year before this, and ironically similar to a co-star in one of Eastwood's finest cinematic achievements to date, Mystic River. Walter is a convicted child molester, and yes, it weighs as heavy on the plot as you'd think, just from the picture above. It's about as regular and standard as Walter can make as any a face through the frames of the film.
I've always liked watching Kevin Bacon and how he presents truthful and subtle performances on camera. I fear his unconventional good looks and unloud, unbroad-stokesness in his characters has kept him a more hidden gem of the town. And every now and then, he reminds us of his long pedigree in his art.
Bacon gives us a real self-hating, self-untrusting, self-doubting, lonely, almost mouse of a man who has just been released from prison and making his way back into gen. pop. And he makes that into a new job, apartment, kitchen, bed, all done spliced in between an opening credit sequence I didn't mind.
His boss, played with zero comedic effect by the great David Allen Grier, knows about his past and begrudgingly gives him a job at his lumber mill because of his good work history with Grier's father.
Bacon is grateful and takes the job of course, using the bus to get form his Philadelphia streets neighborhood to the mill. Did I mention the only lease that would ignore his nasty reveals on the background check was from in a building across from an elementary school? 320 ft away to be exact, as Walter measures this out, and does not make him happy. "It's the only place that'd take my money." Woodn'ya know?
He tells his friendly brother-in-law Carlos (Bratt) that he "likes the noise." Okay, sure. Carlos comes by often and seems to generally be vested in a good standing relationship with Walter. He believes in him to change, and lead a good life. Even if his wife, Walter's sister, does not.
We get the sense at first that Walter can handle this, this new life, and he is adjusting. He works at the mill, rebuffs the friendliness of a secretary and goes home to drink a beer or two, and then hit the bricks. He goes to his "not-a-doctor" but a court-ordered therapist played by Michael Shannon in a careful and thoughtful performance played calmly by Michael Shannon.
He meets a woman at his lumbar yard, Vicki (played by his real life wife Kyra Segdwick). She mostly operates a fork-lift but we get the sense that she can do other things as well. She tough, lonely, brash and we get the sense, as lonely and broken as he is. Coming from different but dark backgrounds, they bask in each other. And Walter for a few glimpses of the film, looks at her honestly as a way to start a new life, maybe not a happy one, but one he wants for himself nonetheless. I won't say whether she finds out or not about Walter and his past, but I'll say she identifies him as a not shy, but something else, something happen to him. What follows that dialogue with her character for her remaining scenes comes off and real, and honest to me. I swallowed it with no problem (I won't say it. . .)
See, I've seen this film categorized on film websites with the tag-label as a Psychological Drama, and I'll agree that's precisely what it is, even though they probably weren't thinking what I'm about to lay down when they did that.
The power of this film, is not contained in long eloquent speeches about the right and wrong of the world, or the morality of man--save for one good set of words from his parole officer/police detective Mos Def in a great scene. This film doesn't smash melodrama at you from every angle to ram the point home, you need to feel for Walter and sympathize. The conflict, drama, resolutions (if any) and progress and back-steps this film makes--is inside Walter's very mind. And Bacon shows us that if we are every to "be normal, and have a normal life" we must first conquer ourselves before we conquer our future, our happiness, our life.
An interesting part of the woodsman is how the people that find themselves inside Walter's apartment from time to time, are also finding out new parts of themselves, or of Walter, that they didn't see before. As Bacon sits there, in his chairs or couches, huddled together in himself and only really comfortable inside his blue hoodie jacket, it's up to no one to decided for him his fate, some realize this, some loose faith, some scold and beat him entirely.
It's not always easy being Walter, and Bacon goes out of his way not to act that out for us. We're very grateful in deed for his subtle, broken-puppy charms and the hope and fear and anger in his eyes. Coating himself in a shame-glaze, Bacon gives us powerfully honest and dry (a swear that was a compliment) portrayal of Walter. You never hate him outright, and you never trust him either. You just watch him, uneasy as to what he's really thinking. Sometimes,we don't even think that Walter really knows it either.
There is something to be said about Walter and how he understands his "sick, fuckin' disease" is always deep inside him. That it already has and could again drive him to commit a terrible act. What is to be said about that notion is that it does not necessarily keep him from embracing it's existence, and he feels the tugging of his brains from the power of his body.
In a scene that truly grabs hold of the more sensitive parts of the human spirit, Walter ends up making a young friend and together they sit and talk about the birds at the park she has observed, and then other things. . . I will not continue, but it's a big moment for him and his future. It's honesty, candid power and bittersweet nature is there, with Walter understand that actions have grave consequences, but maybe not giving much a damn. My hand, in a truly feministic (not a word) spirit went to my mouth and the edge of my seat found it's way to my backside very quickly--this lasted for minutes. At the end of it, I devilishly couldn't help but smile. Watch it before you judge my last admission.
We all have deep, compulsions inside ourselves. They don't manifest after exposure, their always there, dwelling for us to ignore or embrace. Their built into the dashboard, you can't just swap.
Don't worry, I'm not about to launch into a big speech defending Walter's actions and nature. But I'll say that what first time director Nichole Kassell and her screenwriter (who's play they adapted) Steven Fetcher understand is that judging him from the start is not the way to show us the frames, but to ask him, "What does he do now? How does he keep going now?"
Watching Walter navigate those questions was the beauty of the film. And the reason I'd recommend watching it.