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The Woodsman

Release date: Dec. 24 Distributor: Newmarket

Oscar alumna: Lisa Fruchtman (editing, “The Right Stuff”)

Has Kevin Bacon’s time finally come? Though his roles in wide-ranging movies from “Footloose” and “Diner” to “Murder in the First” and “The River Wild” have made the actor a fixture of American film, his performance in last year’s “Mystic River” finally gave him widespread recognition, a Screen Actors Guild award and a Boston Society of Film Critics prize (both shared with the entire cast) — but not an Oscar nom. Instead, the Academy acknowledged his co-stars Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, the latter of whom played a troubled adult molested as a young boy.

In “The Woodsman,” Bacon gets his chance to play a man tortured by child molestation, but in this case, he is the perpetrator. A convicted sex offender, Bacon’s beleaguered Walter is out of jail after a 12-year prison sentence and trying to put his life back on track. But antagonized by co-workers and an aggressive cop (an insidious Mos Def), Walter eventually crumbles.

While the film’s dark subject matter presents a challenge to the campaign efforts of distributor Newmarket, this is the company that transformed Charlize Theron’s turn as a lesbian serial killer into an Oscar victory.

As with last year’s “Monster,” it is a first-time female director, Nicole Kassell, who offers a compassionate view of a character normally demonized by society and the media. Calling the movie “stunningly crafted,” Variety critic David Rooney wrote after the film’s Sundance debut, “Bacon and the filmmakers succeed in portraying Walter not as a monster but as a broken man desperately yearning for normalcy.”

The “bird-watching” scene, in which Bacon’s character and a young girl sit together on a park bench, is particularly tragic and horrifying all at once — a tour-de-force acting moment that, alone, could seal a nom for Bacon.

Kyra Sedgwick, Bacon’s real-life wife, offers ample supporting fireworks as a tough-talking love interest plagued by her own history of abuse.

Winner of a Special Jury Prize at the Deauville Film Fest, “The Woodsman” marks an auspicious debut for Kassell. It’s tough stuff, but as with producer Lee Daniels’ last effort, “Monster’s Ball,” Acad voters could put their support behind such challenging subject matter, however distressing it may be.

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