I recall reading a review for The Woodsman when it first came out last year. The reviewer liked it but, because the content was so touchy, predicted it wouldn't do big business in the box office. The reviewer was right. I never heard anything about it since but tucked it away in the back of my head as something I'd like to see sometime.
I'll do my best to not reveal any major plot points or give anything away, so continue reading with no fear of spoilers.
Kevin Bacon stars as Walter, a man returning to society after spending some time away. Walter was a bad man and did bad things. He's haunted by his past and his actions. He knows what he did was wrong and wants desperately to change as he tries to fit back in. More than once he asks his analyst, pleads, "When will I be normal."
Unlike many movies, Walter doesn't (and can't) change overnight. Walter struggles against temptations that are right outside his front door...literally. He wants to change...he really does. It's hard to sympathize with Walter too much, however, because we know what he's done in the past and his crime is indeed a horrible one. Is it right to empathize with someone who's done something so wrong? If someone commits what can very easily be considered an unforgivable sin, does it make you just as bad as the criminal if you forgive him? Should we really forgive those who trespass against us? Can we?
At one point in the film Walter finds himself giving in...we see him giving in...and I found myself pulling for him, hoping that he wouldn't do it...I really wanted Walter to stay strong and found myself getting angry at the fact that Walter was failing. Again. And then, at the last possible second there is a revelation that changes the direction and flow. It's not one of those twists-for-sake-of-a-twist that is so popular in movies now but a moment of clarity for Walter that may not have come if he wasn't tested.
I'm not trying to annoy you with my vague details, but one of the things I liked so much about the film was that I knew very little about it going in, so I never knew what to expect or what was coming next. I will say this: One doesn't walk away from the film with the false idea that every bad person will change their ways. But it hints at the fact that they can.