The subject matter alone will be enough to keep some audiences from seeing "The Woodsman." After all, this dramatic thriller deals with the sexual molestation of children — in fact, its main character is a convicted pedophile. But as distasteful as the concept may be, it's approached with surprising sensitivity and taste. There's never any intent to shock moviegoers with needlessly cheap plot or character developments. The film's discussions of the real intent behind punishment and parole — and questions of whether sexual predators should be accepted back into society — are made without pummeling the audience.

The film is also noteworthy for Kevin Bacon's brave performance as the title character, Walter Rossworth, who has been released from prison after 12 years, a sentence he served for sexually molesting young girls. He claims that he's just trying to get on with his life. He's found a job in a lumber mill, but his new apartment is across the street from an elementary school.

So far he's managed to stay out of trouble. He's even started seeing one of his co-workers, the tough-talking forklift operator Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick), who suspects he's hiding something. But Walter still has to resist the obvious temptations, which isn't easy — especially when some of his other co-workers discover his shady past, and he starts getting visits from a persistent cop (Mos Def) who won't give him a break.

Not to give anything away, but the film doesn't go where you might expect. A scene in which Walter approaches a young girl (Hannah Pilkes) in a park is one of the film's more chillingly effective, and certainly most surprising, moments.

Co-screenwriter/director Nicole Kassell also manages to "open up" the source material, Steven Fechtner's stage play, and her direction is visually strong without becoming a distraction.

Still, the whole thing hinges on Bacon's performance, and his quiet, brooding turn is among the best work he's ever done. He's also backed by a solid cast with good contributions from both Sedgwick (his real-life wife) and Benjamin Bratt, who plays Walter's understanding brother-in-law.

"The Woodsman" is rated R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity, simulated sex, some frank discussions of sexual molestation, some brief violence (including a beating), brief female nudity, and use of some racial epithets. Running time: 87 minutes.