Thursday, 4 September 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2004: Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman

Kevin Bacon did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Walter in The Woodsman.

The Woodsman is an effective film about a convicted pedophile attempting to turn over a new leaf after being released from prison.

Well going from Adolf Hitler we once again go to another individual who seems irredeemable due to his actions. This time in the case of Walter who has severed several years in prison because of his molestation of young girls. We first meet Walter after he is just being released, so technically we don't witness, Walter at his worst, instead we see him as he trying in some way to start again after committing such horrible crimes. Bacon is excellent from the beginning as he creates Walter into a truly unsettling presence simply in the way Bacon wears the history of Walter. Bacon carefully does not overact the part, like say Stanely Tucci in The Lovely Bones, instead he plays it much like his closest predecessor Stuart Whitman in The Mark. That Bacon does not obviously show Walter as some sort of diabolical fiend, but instead with his performance shows perhaps how he could have possibly approached the girls to begin with. Bacon conveys that there is something off with Walter, but does not simply give it away.

Bacon's performance here is quite compelling early on as he interacts in his new job, as well as with one of the few people who knew him from before who happens to still be willing to talk to him. Bacon is effective in creating a constant distance from everyone else, and Bacon is very good in showing that Walter is purposefully separating himself almost from the world. When he does speak up or to someone Bacon makes it a needed effort on Walter's part to overcome the shame of his reality. Bacon does something very interesting with his performance though in that he does not portray Walter as wholly reformed, and certainly does not portray him as completely damning his own actions either. Bacon instead shows Walter as man who is in very much conflict with himself. Bacon suggests that part of his silence and distance is perhaps thinking he now way has not at all lost his desires, but that also part of it may be his own personal punishment for his actions.

Bacon stays mostly quiet in his performance except for the scenes where Walter visits his therapist (Michael Shannon, although I don't know if I'd trust Michael Shannon for sane advice) and is forced to reveal some more of his own inner thoughts. Bacon is very good in naturally bringing the intensity in the man outwardly when he is basically forced to look at what he has done directly. Bacon is excellent in these scenes because he portrays the mental problems in Walter comes out in a certain confusion. Bacon makes Walter a mess of emotions in these scenes and never sells the mental problems of Walter short. Walter does not exactly understand his own problem or even why he has done exactly what he has done. Bacon is convincing in every moment and gives a view into the unstable mental state of Walter. Bacon successfully leaves enough of Walter a mystery, in there can't be a full explanation, but properly allows you to know what it is that Walter knows about himself.

Bacon's best scene is easily a long scene where Walter approaches a young girl in the park after a series of set backs has caused Walter to question his attempt to reform. Bacon is absolutely chilling in this scene as he actually shows the most warmth during his performance, but he uses it here to show Walter's disturbed method of approaching the girl. Bacon's shows Walter's method in unflinching detail, and succeeds in making the scene one of incredible unease. Walter's questions though seem to cause the girl to breakdown to reveal that she is probably has been molested already by her father leaving Walter to notice not only what he is doing but the truth of what he has done. Bacon's reaction is flawless as he manages to be quite moving, after being so unnerving, in showing the sudden realization in Walter, as he changes from his odd warmth to an actual understanding and self-loathing. It is a unforgettable scene because of just how flawlessly Bacon executes the very difficult complex emotions of the scene.

If I do have a reservation involving Bacon's performance it in no way involves the quality of his performance but rather the nature of the film. The film's tone and is brevity make Walter's personal journey a relatively quick one. The film easily could have been longer, and I think it actually would have only added to the story as there certainly were more areas to explore or develop involving this story. Having said that with the material at his disposal Bacon gives a tremendous performance. It's an extreme challenge to play the role as there is constantly the risk of being completely impossible to care about, made overly sympathetic which would be quite problematic, or just being turned into some bizarre caricature like the way these type of characters are often portrayed. Bacon makes none of these mistakes with his performance as he simply turns the child molester into a human more than anything else.  It's a terrific performance that manages to be chilling yet with a very well earned poignancy in the end as well.

9 comments:

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

So can you do me a favor and lower Tucci's score for The Lovely Bones?

luke higham said...

Louis: Ratings & Thoughts on Sedgwick, Def & Shannon.

Michael McCarthy said...

Ahhhh man that last scene with the little girl made him a solid 5 for me.

Also I appreciate that comment about Michael Shannon, the moment I saw he was playing a therapist I actually cracked up.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Love Bacon, but he is such a wasted actor nowadays!

Anonymous said...

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar or Louis or anyone,

Have you guys seen the film called Stir of Echoes? I thought that was one of Kevin Bacon's best performances.

Anonymous said...

Louis what are your thoughts on Lynn Carlin in Faces? I know she's a five for you but personally I thought she did almost nothing so I'd like to hear your thoughts.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

@Anonymous: No I haven't unfortunately but it looks like the sort of role he'd do well in. My favourite role of his is probably Sleepers, he was chilling in that.

Also, Louis, have you seen Intouchables?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

God I hated Sleepers. Like an extended Law and Order: SVU episode, and just as tasteless as one.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Sedgwick - 2.5(The relationship between her character's and Bacon's was probably the weakest element of the film for me. It seemed not explored enough and I do think that there were probably too many implied molesters in the film seeming to suggest that basically all men are. Anyway though I never quite bought as the tough cranky worker, especially since she transitioned so quickly of not being that. She was not terrible, but I never fully bought her character)

Shannon - 2.5(Completely miscast to be sure, and really he just does not have a lot to do in the part. He technically fulfills what he needs to do though)

Def - 3(Def is solid in all his scenes even is his character is repetitive. He is convincing in creating the somber and anger driven manner of the cop toward Walter, and managed to make you understand where his character was coming from)

The best supporting player I actually would say was the little girl.

Anonymous:

Carlin - 5(I thought she was terrific in her early scenes in her confused reaction to the scene where John Marley's character reveals what it is that he has done. I think after that point she gives a very effective portrayal of the slow deterioration of her mental condition of her character in a slow and subtle fashion. Finally I just find her final scene with Cassel to be great as she suggests her character may be getting better without needing to say a word)

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar:

Haven't seen it.