Actor Kevin Bacon is playing a pedophile in his new movie “The Woodsman.” A Sunday profile in the Washington Post cites this as evidence that the edgy actor “doesn’t deviate from risky role choices.”

Desson Howe, author of the risky choices piece, describes the movie this way:

“The film, starring Bacon and his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, is about Walter (played by Bacon), a young man who tries to piece his life together after 12 years in prison for child molestation. He gets a job at a lumberyard and becomes increasingly friendly with Vickie (Sedgwick), a colleague who isn’t aware of his background. Walter spends his life worrying about losing Vickie when she learns the truth, about being detected and humiliated at his job, and the burning question: Can he curb his dark impulses?

“’A studio wouldn’t go near this movie,’ says Bacon, 46, also the film’s executive producer….”

Actually, this movie–duly embraced by the crowd at Sundance, Robert Redford’s annual film festival for independent movies–is just the sort of film studios do go hear. It’s just an example of Hollywood Courage: Take a role that is guaranteed to offend the sensibilities of not one Hollywood twit and call yourself heroic.

Playing a pedophile in Hollywood is just about as risky as–say–playing sex-crazed college prof Alfred Kinsey. Which is to say it’s no risk at all. In fact, movie critic James Bowman has pointed out how these two films are similar:

“The most memorable aphorism from the movie Kinsey, apparently originally pronounced by the sex-researcher of the same name, could be said to sum up our post-Kinsey civilization in five words: ’Everybody’s sin is nobody’s sin.’ Kinsey’s own purpose in collecting so many thousands of sexual histories and publishing a series of popular books designed to redefine what people think of as ’normal’ sexual behavior seems to have been to separate sex from sin entirely. The movie shows the professor’s encounter with a pedophile and genuine pervert whose hardly believable sexual excesses are perhaps meant to show that sexual sin is still possible, but Liam Neeson’s Kinsey is fascinated as well as appalled.

“In The Woodsman, apparently somebody’s idea of a Christmas movie, Kevin Bacon plays a pedophile named Walter who has just been released from jail after serving a 12-year sentence for molesting little girls. Walter repeatedly asks his psychiatrist (Michael Shannon) with what I take to be intended as poignant longing, ’When will I be normal?’ But as both Kinsey and this movie show, he already is normal, at least in Hollywood’s terms. He would not be presented to us as the sympathetic character he is here — a sad ex-con trying to go straight and being persecuted by his work-mates when they find out his history — if the film-makers didn’t see him as being firmly on the continuum of normality which, for our Kinseyite culture, extends to all but the most extreme perversions, and perhaps even there. For once morality has been medicalized and the process of treating bad people as sick people is well underway, there is no obvious place for it to stop. We are not meant to approve of what Walter has done, but neither are we meant to see it as putting him beyond the pale of decent society. Sickness implies health just as perversion implies normality, and in both cases the therapeutic bias is always going to be in favor of expecting one to turn, eventually, into the other.’

The movie apparently shows Walter learning to think of himself as normal and hoping to be reunited with his sister–oddly, she seems to have taken a dim view of Walter’s molesting young children–and perhaps even finding a loving relationship with Vickie. In other words, he’s pretty much like the rest of us.

Asks Bowman:
“What, then, is the point of it all? Duh! To get Kevin Bacon, the hardest working man in the movie business, an Oscar. The part of Walter gives him a chance not only to star but to give us the gamut of emotion in the kind of ’edgy’ role the Academy tends to favor when it comes to handing out awards. And that, too, is proof — if any further proof were needed — that Hollywood sees the Walters of this world as being as deserving as any of us of a warm embrace and a big wet kiss from the great god of the post-Kinsey era, Normality. Those who enthusiastically applaud this notion, including many in the Academy, will presumably relish Mr Bacon’s performance.”

Bacon probably will win an Oscar. Why? Because this isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a “risky” movie to make in Hollywood.

What’s a risky role?

Try Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ.”

I just hope Jim Cavaziel’s career survives that!