The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Kevin Bacon reveals his capacity

with 34 comments

Has it ever happened to you your view on an actor has changed completely after one single performance in a movie?

It happened to me the other night.

Kevin Bacon used to be an actor who I tolerated but didn’t admire. He had been around forever and made dozens of average appearances in average movies. At the best I regarded him as a safe card. At the worst he was mildly annoying for vague reasons that I couldn’t put my finger on. He certainly wasn’t an actor that would make me go and watch a movie just to get the chance to see him. No Ryan Gosling.

And then I watched The Woodsman and my perception of Kevin Bacon was turned upside down from one hour to the next.

Tough sell topic
His portray of a child molester returning to his hometown after 12 years in prison, attempting to start a new life, is one of the best acting performances I’ve ever seen on a screen.

It’s not a comfortable movie to watch, to say the least. The topic is a tough sell and causes a lot of mixed emotions at least with me.

So here he is, this clearly fucked-up person, who has committed one of the worst crimes I can think of, a person I wouldn’t want anywhere near any of my daughters, a man that you’d rather keep locked up in a prison for the rest of his life. Better safe than sorry. We don’t want that kind of monsters loose in the streets. Apparently there’s a big risk for relapses, so why even give him the chance to think about it?

On the other hand, the man is obviously remorseful. He knows what he’s done, he knows what harm it did and he doesn’t want to walk that road again. Relapsing is the last thing he wants to do. There’s something very vulnerable about him, so when his sister refuses to have anything to do with him and his co-workers start bullying him, it feels unfair. After all – you pay for your crimes with your prison sentence. Shouldn’t that be enough?

I felt double about the guy, I and I think that was exactly what this movie was aiming for. Complexity. Ambiguity.

Onetime only?
It’s hard to think of a role more difficult to play than this, composed by so many layers, ranging from something vaguely sympathetic to the straight out creepy. Who would have believed that Kevin Bacon of all people would be the man to pull it off? I certainly wouldn’t

But he did and he did it so well that I admit that I probably have underrated him most unfairly.

So what do you say, has Kevin Bacon done any role as good as this? Are there other of his movies that I need to check out again? Or was The Woodsman a onetime only, the highpoint of his acting career?

The Woodsman(Nicole Kassell, US, 2004) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

April 24, 2012 at 1:00 am

34 Responses

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  1. Great post. I sort of feel the same way about him and Ed Harris. I felt that way about Tom Hanks, too, but my perception changed when I watched Big.

    fernandorafael

    April 24, 2012 at 1:42 am

    • Thanks! Oh, Big, I have fond memories of that. Also: Tom Hanks seems to be an incredibly nice guy from interviews I’ve seen. I think it might affect my perception of him a bit.

      Jessica

      April 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm

  2. I don’t think Bacon has done anything near this, but that speaks more to the level of the performance in this film than to the rest of his body of work. I don’t know that I can point out anything specific but I do think he can generally be a solid presence, recently in a baddie role in films like X-Men and Super.

    Anyway, this performance from him is my favorite acting performance of all time and the film itself is top-5 of all time for me. I think the perception of this type of individual is one that says it is a horrible person, not that it is a person with a horrible affliction that leads to terrible things. By making us sympathize with him, by letting us see his inner struggle, it makes this clear. It also shows that the harder society makes it for him to have a normal life, the weaker it makes him to stand up to his urges. It’s the kind of bravery on the topic that we need a bit more of to actually address the issue.

    Bondo

    April 24, 2012 at 5:29 am

    • Really good movies affect how you view the world, make you reconsider your preception, get you to the point where you start to question your own stereotypes. This movie is one of them, breaking grounds into an extremely difficult area. Even Dan Savage, who usually has answers for just about anything, have very few ideas, very little advice to give to people who have those urges. I heard him suggest getting medications to decrease their sexual desires. This is never suggested in this movie. I guess it wouldn’t work out since they want this story with the gf as well (which I think adds a very good dimension to it, so it’s a good call.)

      I don’t know if it will end up on my top 5 of movies ever. But it definitely lingers in my mind and I’ll never ever forget that scene on the bench.

      Jessica

      April 24, 2012 at 3:15 pm

  3. While I have a really, really soft spot for Flatliners and Tremors, I have to agree with you. This is Bacon’s finest hour thus far. Unfortunately, I am not as moved by the movie as a whole although I very much liked the role of the brother in law. Makes the thing more nuanced in my eyes.

    http://bilderord.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/the-woodsman-2004/

    Sofia

    April 24, 2012 at 5:56 am

    • I’m afraid we disagree on this one. I liked it far better than you did. I didn’t even notice it was based on a play. It didn’t feel theatrical at all to me. And I was never bored at all. I was too gripped by it, wondering so much about how it would end, if he’d relaps and end up in prison or not… Often when I watch movies at home I’m distracted by things going on around me but not in this case.

      Jessica

      April 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm

      • Agree to disagree then 🙂 Just a word on Sleepers, which I see a lot of people recommend. Bacon does a good performance, but to my mind the movie in itself was an average one despite the impressive cast.

        Sofia

        April 25, 2012 at 5:57 am

        • Still, I have to agree with you and Emil below — the park bench scene is nothing short of fantastic.

          Sofia

          April 25, 2012 at 6:01 am

  4. Your experience with Kevin Bacon is the same as my own. There was always something about him that bothered me, and I could never quite figure it out. Maybe it was just his silly last name. But yeah, then I saw The Woodsman, and wow! A stunning performance. That scene on the park bench alone had me at the edge of my seat. Great movie, too.

    To answer your question: if Bacon has ever been as good as he was here, I haven’t seen it.

    Emil

    April 24, 2012 at 8:51 am

    • Oh, that par bench scene, yes. Fantastic. What I think is so good about his performance is how subtle it is, how he never ever overplays anything. He’s playing with small, small, barely notable movements, just like Fassbender in Shame. No need for voiceover there. We get close to him without it. Stunning is the word.

      Jessica

      April 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm

  5. Hi Jessica, I often think that Kevin Bacon is famous for (a) Footloose and (b) Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, neither of which he has ever really been able to shake off. I remember seeing an interview with him once when he was asked about Footloose. He answered the question in a pleasant way but also made the point that it was 25 years ago and he had made a number of films since then and raised The Woodsman as a film that he was very proud of. I must admit that I have not seen the film, but will now add it to the watch list. Might also throw on Tremors which I just can’t get enough of. Cheer Will.

    Will, Positively Movies

    April 24, 2012 at 9:27 am

    • If he’s proud about it, he’s rightfully so! And from the looks of it I imagine it’s hardly a big budget production. It’s not the kind of movie you do to get rich; it’s what you do to get an interesting acting challange. It’s sad if people still only connect him to Footloose and not to a movie like this.

      Jessica

      April 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm

  6. Nicely done Jessica. I feel the same about Mr Bacon, there is just something about him that never clicks with me. I will check this film out when I can.

    • Thanks! Watch this one. I’m pretty certain it will click with you too. It’s nothing like the other Kevin Bacon roles you’ve seen before.

      Jessica

      April 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm

  7. Like you Jessica, I found this a difficult film to watch but Bacon was very brave in taking this role on. I wouldn’t say I’m a massive fan of his either but I thought he was rather good in JFK and MURDER IN THE FIRST.

    Mark Walker

    April 24, 2012 at 11:03 am

    • It’s been too long since I watched JFK, so frankly I don’t remember him from there. But if I ever rewatch it, I’ll look out for him. I will react differently to his name from now on, that’s for sure.

      Jessica

      April 24, 2012 at 2:49 pm

  8. I haven’t seen The Woodsman but since everyone is talking about they haven’t seen him in any other good role I thought I should pitch in. Have you seen a movie called Sleepers ? I can’t compare it with Woodsman of course, but I thought he was really good in sleepers as well. Comparatively smaller but very significant role as a prison guard and movie as well was much better than I thought it would be.

    But even then I can’t think of anything else. So, pretty much Sleepers is my Woodsman. 🙂

    SDG

    April 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    • I remember when the movie came out, but I don’t think I ever watched it. I probably just remember a bit of the marketing. If I ever get to see it I’ll keep an eye open for Kevin.

      Jessica

      April 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm

  9. I highly recommend Murder in the First and Taking Chance.

    Maureen Brown Locke

    April 24, 2012 at 4:18 pm

  10. I don’t care much for Kevin Bacon (especially after seeing the awful film Rails & Ties) but in the movie Sleepers he does a very good job as the prison guard in my opinion. Check it out if you haven’t already. Bacon doesn’t have a big role but the movie is good.

    Svart Noir

    April 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    • I should watch that one. I didn’t use to care for him, but now I’m ready to re-evaluate him. Perhaps he deserves better movies.

      Jessica

      April 24, 2012 at 5:14 pm

  11. He does a very nice job in Stir of Echoes as well.

    Pam

    April 24, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    • Never heard of that one before. Looks creepy when I look it up.

      Jessica

      April 24, 2012 at 8:34 pm

  12. Nice post! I should check out this movie simply because it sounds like an unusual role for Bacon.

    Tommy D

    April 25, 2012 at 12:56 am

    • He should have done more of this kind of films. I don’t know why he hasn’t. Perhaps he’s been labelled as a more slight actor, not the heavy lifting type. Or perhaps he’s just been offered more profitable roles and gone for those rather than persuing a career in indie movies.

      Jessica

      April 25, 2012 at 7:50 am

  13. I was reading this post and quietly nodding along. I found myself agreeing with this idea that Bacon hasn’t managed to do a real stand out performance. But I thought he was fantastic in Tremors – he should a real energy, while his smaller roles have sometimes been his best – JFK, Sleepers, Wild Things.

    …but, thinking about it, there has been a performance that I would merit up there with the best ones – indeed Oscar Worthy – his portrayal of Henri Young in Murder In The First is astonishing.

    Dan

    April 26, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    • I completely second those thoughts. JFK and Murder in the First are the ones that jump out for me.

      Mark Walker

      April 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      • Been ages since I watched JFK and as usual I don’t remember a thing. But if I’ll re-watch it, I’ll keep an eye at Bacon.

        Jessica

        April 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    • Murder in The First. I hear you!

      Jessica

      April 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm

  14. I will say I have been a fan of Kevin Bacon a long time, I feel he had a presence in some mediocre films that helped keep them enjoyable (He’s in the first Friday the 13th and I always loved the first Tremors) But for some movies where he has shown some real skill I would recommend Stir of Echoes (Came out at the same time as Sixth Sense and got forgotten but I think a superior film), Where the Truth Lies (with Colin Firth really kept me guessing), and Death Sentence (may be a simple revenge thriller but I feel it is elevated by the performances given).

    kennysledge

    April 29, 2012 at 2:12 am

    • Thanks for the suggestions! He’s been very productive, that’s for sure. My previous dismissal of him can be that I’ve just watched too few of his movies or the wrong ones.

      Jessica

      April 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm

  15. It is a very good movie indeed.

    And watching trough the list, no, there’s nothing quite that good on the list. Although i agree that Tremors is a fun movie 🙂

    carrandas

    April 29, 2012 at 12:52 pm


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