Route One Films/Wildwood Enterprises/Broad Green Pictures
Directed by Ken Kwapis
Produced by Robert Redford/Bill Holderman/Chip Diggins
Screenplay by Rick Kerb/Bill Holderman
Based on “A Walk In The Woods” by Bill Bryson
I suppose I must be getting old. I remember the day when a new Robert Redford movie was considered a major theatrical event. And a movie teaming him up with Nick Nolte? Hey, that’s news right there. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention because it sure seems as if this movie almost snuck right by me. I vaguely remember seeing a trailer for it sometime during the summer but let’s face it, with all the trailers they show you before a summer movie (I swear that the showing of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” I attended, there was an even dozen trailers) it’s easy to forget.
But no matter. The main point is, I saw it. Did I like it? Well before we get into that, allow me to quote myself from my review of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Ahem. Here goes; “I myself appreciate and heartily endorse movies like this one because there are a lot of retired and elderly folk who enjoy going out in the evening or the afternoon to see a movie. And they aren’t interested in superheroes or excessively violent and sexually explicit action extravaganzas with all that naughty language. Again, fair enough. When we talk about diversity in our entertainment, let’s not forget our retired and elderly. They deserve to have movies made for them playing in theaters featuring actors playing characters their age and dealing with issues they themselves may be going through.”
Okay? Because A WALK IN THE WOODS is a movie specifically geared toward that age group. Now I’m not saying that younger movie goers wouldn’t appreciate or like this movie if they gave it a chance but there’s a whole lot of things going on here that you can relate to better when you’re 50 or 60 than you can when you’re 20 or 30, is all.
Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) has built up an impressive career as a writer of humorous travel books while living in England for about 20 years. He returns to America and lives quite well and peacefully with his wife Cynthia (Emma Thompson). While attending a funeral we’re shown that despite his age, Bill is still somewhat socially inept and uncomfortable around people. Maybe that’s why he suddenly takes it into his head to hike The Appalachian Trail. It goes for 2,200 miles through 14 states and is famous for the many hikers who attempt to hike the entirety of the trail. Only around 10% of those who start out actually finish. Bill intends to finish. He also wants to go by himself but Cynthia puts both feet down. The only way Bill is going to go is if he takes somebody along.
Enter Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) an old friend who offers to come along. Bill hasn’t talked to him in years. Not because he’s mad at him or anything like that. They just simply drifted apart. But apparently, thanks to a scrapbook he’s kept all these years and luridly wild stories Stephen is more than happy to share with Cynthia, he and Bill had a pretty adventurous partnership for a while there.
Bill and Stephen set out on their last great adventure together and it soon becomes apparent to Bill (and hilariously to us) that Stephen isn’t as good a shape to go on this hike as he said he was. He’s got bad knees and his breathing sounds as if his lungs are made out of burlap. And if that wasn’t enough, Bill finds a pint of bourbon hidden in Stephen’s backpack and wonders if he’s got a boozer on his hands that is going to hinder his finishing the hike. Not that Bill is a model companion either. He’s got his own dysfunctional emotional issues that distance him from people and it says something about the man that he doesn’t seem interested in finding out why.
Despite all that heavy stuff, this is very much a buddy comedy and I can see why Robert Redford bought the rights to this book as this would have been the perfect third film for him to co-star with Paul Newman, forming a sort of unofficial trilogy. But sadly, Mr. Newman passed away in 2008. However, Nick Nolte makes a more than amiable and acceptable co-star. Indeed, he shamelessly steals every scene he can get away with and once again reminds us that he is as adept at comedy as he is at drama.
I can’t really say that there’s a compelling story here or even much suspense in wondering if Bill and Stephen will finish their hike. Mainly we get truly beautiful and astonishing views of the Appalachian Trail as the two men walk. Along the way they meet some interesting and eccentric characters such as Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal) who is convinced that everybody else in the world is dumb and boring except for her. Mary Steenburgen shows up as a hotel manager who sends Bill clear signals that she’d like to provide him with the sort of room service the other guests don’t get. Stephen has a laundromat love affair with the plus-sized Beulah (Susan McPhail) that is definitely more than he bargained for. Nick Offerman also shows up for what is little more than a cameo but he does more with that than most actors do with 30 minutes worth of screen time.
So should you see A WALK IN THE WOODS? If you’re a fan of Robert Redford and/or Nick Nolte, absolutely. They have a wonderful rapport and chemistry that makes me wish they’d done some work together when they were younger. The story is a light one and designed to do nothing more than require you spend some time with two old friends reconnecting with each other and themselves. It’s fun to watch and that’s good enough for me.
Rated R: Be advised that the R rating is for language alone. The “F” word gets a mighty healthy workout in this one.