As I left the theater, I thought to myself: How am I going to write this review? This movie needs to be experienced, to be felt. Then when I looked at the other reviews here on Amazon, I saw that the "experiences" were already covered in detail, so I decided that gave me some leeway.
This is a film about a pedophile, and the struggles he experiences after his release from prison, both with the people in his life and the emotions that boil inside of him. My review is going to focus mainly on the specific events involving him and his pedophilia.
Many viewers likely have difficulty separating the fiction of the movie from the reality of the horrors of child molestation, which probably explains its dismal rating (currently 5.6 out of 10) on pro.imdb.com (the professional version of the Internet Movie Database). They probably feel disgust - and they *should* feel disgust. There is no worse crime than stealing the life of a child. This film was also shunned by the Golden Globes, which means it will likely receive no nods from the Academy, which is much more conservative. That is a pity, because at the very least Kevin Bacon puts on an amazing performance deserves at least a nomination.
Walter (Bacon) is acutely aware of his disease, and he despises himself for it. One can see it in the self-hatred in his eyes, and in the gruff manner in which he treats others. The gruffness, however, probably arose from spending twelve years in prison, where even amongst criminals there is a code of honor: murder, rape, thieve all you want - just never, ever molest a child. While it's never discussed, we can assume that Walter himself was horrifically abused during those twelve years.
Somewhat unbelievably, upon Walter's release from prison, he secures an apartment that is directly across from an elementary school, although it is explained that no other landlord would take his money. His brother-in-law brings him a table, which Walter made as a wedding present for his sister and brother-in-law. Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) says that he's returning it to please his wife. We understand that means that Walter's sister has such hatred, disdain, and an inability to forgive him that she wants nothing of his in her house. Walter places the table in front of a window that overlooks the school's playground, where he either watches, or writes in a journal, which his therapist encouraged him to do. In that journal he speaks of his continuing struggle with his attraction to young girls - and also the very conspicuous stalking of an obvious child molester who is interested in boys. Walter records him in his journal as "candy", and one wonders why Walter doesn't immediately turn him in. He certainly has the opportunity, as he has assigned parole as well as a Sergeant that visits him from time to time to make him feel who takes it upon himself to make Walter feel even worse about himself. Perhaps Walter never turned on "candy" because he still found himself entranced by young girls. That is understandable, even if it is disgusting and revolting.
We also know that he is aware of his abnormality because he speaks of it to his therapist, saying on repeated occasions that he wants to be normal - and normal for him means "looking at a girl and not..." He leaves it at that, but we know what he means. He wants desperately to look at a girl - between the ages of 10 and 12 - and have no desires for her.
Although never directly discussed in the film, there is a scene with his therapist that very strongly suggests a sexual relation between him and his sister, and this likely explains his very specific age range. The therapist asks for his first recollection of sexual feelings, and Walter describes an event where he was taking a nap with his sister and smelling her hair. He was six, and she was four. Walter repeated several times that he enjoyed smelling her hair. The therapist asked him how this progressed over time, and when the age that the therapist approached began to touch on the limits of the girls Walter molested, Walter began to cry and ultimately refused to continue. One can only imagine what took place between the two of them, but whatever it is, Walter's self-reproach is plain. It's also one of the best acted spots in the film.
Walter takes the bus to work, and the bus serves as a catalyst for two things. First, a relationship with a woman (played by Kyra Sedgwick, Bacon's wife) who herself was sexually abused by her brothers when she was younger. When she shares that with Walter, he says to her, "You must hate them". Her reply explains her relationship with him: "No, I love all of them". How she found the ability to forgive them we never know. These situations are complicated.
Second, a young girl rides the bus that he finds attractive. One day he doesn't get off at his stop and he follows her into a park where she's looking at birds. He strikes up a conversation with her, and it's very difficult as an audience member to watch this dialogue. Part of you can't help but care about Walter, because even though you know he has molested young girls (and therefore a part of you loathes him), you see the burning desire for redemption within him and you want him to succeed at becoming "normal". The girl breaks off the conversation and leaves, but not uncomfortably - in fact, she seems very comfortable with him. Nevertheless, Walter wears his guilt like the weight of a galaxy on his shoulders, and he slumps home.
A jealous girl who he originally shunned found out that he was a child molester, and started distributing flyers around the lumberyard where he works with his picture and the nature of his offense. The guys jump on him, he gets slugged a time or two in the gut, and while he originally goes on the floor to work, he walks off early, and finds himself back in the park where he talked to the birdwatcher. He sits on a bench, ostensibly waiting for her to come, and eventually she does, sitting down beside him. Then begins the most uncomfortable part of the film. After some conversation, Walter asks her age (that's part of his M.O. - establish their age), and then asks if she wants to sit on his lap. You can almost hear the collective groan in the theater when he asks this, because you can feel him slipping away into the darkness of his disease again - and we know that if he molests this girl, or even if he is seen sitting next to her, never mind with her on his lap, that he is going back to jail. She says no, and a look of regret and longing wash over Walter's face. Then he asks if her Daddy lets her sit in his lap. She says yes, and he asks if she likes it. And here's the surprise: she says no, and starts to cry.
I'm going to leave it at that, because that in itself is divulging too much of what I feel needs to be experienced. The only other thing I'll say is that the sergeant who is assigned to him shared with him a metaphor earlier in the film, that of the woodsman from Little Red Riding Hood. The woodsman was the character who cut Little Red Riding Hood out of the wolves belly.
The girl on the bus, the birdwatcher, wore a red cape-like jacket.