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The Woodsman & Million Dollar Baby
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
Review Date: 2
.01.05

A film about a man who’s just been released from prison after serving twelve years for molesting children doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, and in fact, “The Woodsman” isn’t a barrel of laughs. But it’s one of last years’ best films.

Kevin Bacon’s performance as a haunted ex-con is extraordinary, and nearly matched in intensity by Kyra Sedgewick, who plays the part of an empathetic co-worker at a small factory in an unnamed city.

Rap star Mos Def turns in a terrific performance, too, as a cop with an eye for fine furniture and an aficionado’s knowledge of horticulture.

The film opens as the prison doors slide open for Walter, Bacon’s character. Walter slips quietly into a blue-collar job at an anonymous industrial wood shop. The only place he can find to rent is located across the street from an elementary school. The window in Walter’s upstairs living room is like a large eye looking directly at the playground. And Walter, when he’s looking out of the window, is its pupil.

But Walter isn’t the only observer in “The Woodsman”. One day from his perch above the playground Walter spots a man whose behavior he instantly recognizes, a predator on the make. And Walter himself is subject to regular and irregular scrutiny by a psychologist and a police detective. As Walter is forced, from multiple sources, to confront his past, the tension is ratcheted up.

There is a scene in a park between Walter and a person I won’t tell you anything about. I will say it’s quite simply one of the most emotionally powerful moments at the movies I’ve experienced in years.

“The Woodsman” is orchestrated by first time director Nicole Kassell. She turns out to be not the cinematic equivalent of a carpenter, but a master woodworker. “The Woodsman” is a small masterpiece and what a shame it’s being overlooked by those who bestow the annual awards. Considering the subject matter, I suppose it’s a small miracle that the film was made at all. But it’s a good one, and not to be missed.

Any movie touched in any way by Clint Eastwood is destined for a close look. And “Million Dollar Baby” is no exception. This one is a favorite of the critics, and with good reason. It’s a fine film, easily one of last year’s best.

“Million Dollar Baby” is a film with a multi-million dollar cast and a priceless twist that elevates it from a wonderful character study to a serious study of character. While we coast along on a sweet and sour storyline - the familiar rags to riches boxing saga, fate inexorably engineers another course.

Avoid all conversation about this film, and don’t read any reviews until after you’ve seen the movie. I’ll just tell you that Eastwood’s performance is probably the best of his career, and that his direction is even better than his turn with “Mystic River”. Also, that anyone with the great good sense to employ Morgan Freeman in a film, in any capacity, has ensured at least a modicum of artistic success. Morgan Freeman is one of the few actors who can make even a bad film interesting. He’s just plain great. And he can almost single handedly take a good film to the top. He has plenty of help from Eastwood in this movie, and, with the assistance of Hillary Swank as the high priced baby, the top is where “Million Dollar Baby” ends up.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.