Writer-director Nicole Kassell's The Woodsman is a lean drama on a difficult subject. Kevin Bacon delivers a carefully measured performance as Walter, a child molester who has been released from prison after serving 12 years for felonious conduct with a young girl. His sister refuses to see him, although his brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt) occasionally stops by Walter's spare apartment to show some familial concern. Along with his parole officer, a local detective (Mos Def, in a strong performance) shows up at his door from time to time.
A proficient carpenter, Walter lands a job at a lumberyard, where he meets the fearless forklift driver Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick). She's a take-no-guff kind of gal and soon becomes involved with the taciturn Walter. The primary problem with The Woodsman, in fact, is Walter's quietness. Bacon plays him as a bottled-up loner, so it's impossible to know what's going on in his head. We watch him as he silently sits on the bus going to work and wonder what he's thinking as he observes the other passengers. In another scene he sits on a park bench with a young girl and we wonder if he'll succumb to his demons, but we're never privy to his interior struggles. It may be a survival instinct that keeps these demons so buried, but it creates a screen character who has no inner life.
The Woodsman sometimes seems implausible (for example, Vickie's unequivocal acceptance of Walter), but we're willing to go along with it to learn something about the compulsions of a child molester. We simply do not learn enough about Walter, though - not his backstory before jail, the presumed struggle with his urges post-jail, or the impact of his relationship with Vickie on his sexual desire for young girls. The Woodsman is a psychological drama that has no psychology. You can tell that everyone's whole heart is in this project; you just wish that a little more of the heart was conveyed on screen.