A WALK IN THE WOODS (review)
A WALK IN THE WOODS
Directed by Ken Kwapis / Written by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman / Starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson
Catherine Bryson: Have you actually thought this all through?
Bill Bryson: Of course not.
Originally intended to reunite Paul Newman and Robert Redford on the big screen, A WALK IN THE WOODS tells the story of Bill Bryson (Redford), a celebrated, socially awkward travel writer wanting to find and peace tranquility again by hiking the 2200 mile long Appalachian Trail. His loving but sensible wife, played flawlessly by Emma Thompson, will only agree to this if he can find someone to join him on this journey – let’s face it; despite still having that Hubbell head of hair, he IS in his seventies and had problems setting up a pup tent in his backyard. Rejected by the many whom he set out to convince to tag along, Bryson is surprised to hear from Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte, looking as grizzled and gruff as he did in that infamous mugshot), his long estranged buddy who wants to share the experience. From here on in, the movie is a beautifully filmed travelogue about two grumpy, and totally opposite, old men and the many humourous encounters they stumble upon along the way.
I am a huge admirer of Redford’s body of work. He consistently brings a fierceness and intensity to most of his roles, while never giving up his integrity and inherent intelligence. But I love watching him when he’s light-hearted and befuddled (BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN or even LEGAL EAGLES). Watching him battle the forces of nature during his trek, and not as Jeremiah Johnson in the film of the same name, is endearing but just not as satisfying. Nolte meanwhile leaves us with a smile on our face, spewing F-bombs like a Quentin Tarantino alum and professing his love of women with loads of junk in their trunk.
Sadly, one leaves A WALK IN THE WOODS humming the scenery. Despite the naturalness of the three lead performers, nothing unpredictable happens and there are no great “with age comes great wisdom” revelations either. Along the way, they meet an annoying, know-it-all hiker (Kristen Schaal, more or less reprising the same character she plays brilliantly on TV’s The Last Man on Earth) and a sex starved motel owner (Mary Steenburgen, also more or less reprising the same character she plays brilliantly on TV’s The Last Man on Earth). There’s also a squeamishly unfunny sequence where Nolte meets the girl of his dreams at a laundromat that involves a pair of panties so large they could be used as a blanket for a king sized bed.
I walked into A WALK IN THE WOODS knowing I wouldn’t see something like WILD or INTO THE WILD; what I wasn’t expecting was seeing something I’d forget hours after it finished. The back and forth banter between Redford and Nolte is entertaining and their chemistry together is fully realized, but I was hoping for a little more depth and energy to make it more memorable. The movie is just too focused in engaging its targeted 65+ audience demographic and had A WALK IN THE WOODS had perhaps a few more scenes like the one where Katz talks about his issues with alcoholism, the broad comedy would not seem so calculated in its attempt to entertain.
How many sheep would you give A Walk in the Woods?