A Walk in the Woods
Starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman, Kristen, Schaal
As it is now, A Walk in the Woods is a pleasantly adapted book that follows two old men who dare to take on the Appalachian Trail. Two previous directors left the project with Ken Kwapis (“Big Miracle”, “Sisterhood of Traveling Pants”) taking the job. Originally A Walk in the Woods was a reteaming project for Redford and his “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid” co-star Paul Newman. Stalled for years, the screenplay was reworked from the 44 year old characters in the book to the 70 year old Nolte and Redford. There are a lot of jokes and moments that really work as a traveling film, but there are a lot of moments where this could have been a much stronger and more well-rounded movie.
Bill Bryson (Redford) has lived abroad, traveled the world and accomplished a lot, including a travel book series. The retired author (whether he admits it or not), decides that even at his age, he needs another adventure and settles on hiking the 2,000 plus Appalachian Trail. His partner for the journey is overweight and unhealthy Stephan Katz (Nolte) whom he hasn’t seen for years. Their journey starts at the beginning of the trail in Georgia as they face weather conditions, falls, annoying hikers and even a bit of wildlife on their way to Maine. Both men quickly come to regret letting so much time pass and despite the difficulties of the trail learn things about life they had forgotten.
I liked this movie more for what it almost was than what it actually ends up being.
This is quite a new role for Oscar nominee Nolte (“Warrior”) who takes more of a John Candy approach to Katz, who is about as unpleasant of a man as you could imagine. Yet Nolte somehow summons charisma and charm in this gruff, unclean, ox-like character that is literally a walking joke on a trail that requires stamina and agility. “A Walk in the Woods” feels like an AARP version of “Sideways”, it’s simple and poignant in certain moments while others it feels the need to borrow ideas from The Hangover”. Some of its biggest disappointments lie with focusing too much on the comedies situations of the characters and not enough on the journey or the locations. Half the time the viewer is unaware of what state the men are currently in.
This certainly isn’t Reese Witherspoon’s “Wild” or even Emilio Estevez’s “The Way”, yet it does manage to carve out its own sense of journey, even if the audience (and the characters) get lost and off track along the way. The ending, which I won’t spoil, took me by surprise and left me wanting more in the way of something traditional for a change. The beginning of this walk seemed so appealing and full of adventure, but like the characters, they begin to realize that their adventure might be found somewhere else. I guess I liked this movie more for what it almost was than what it actually ends up being.
An almost, really fantastic journey.