Review: A Walk In The Woods Is Charming But Stumbles With Its Story
Title: A Walk In The Woods
Director: Ken Kwapis
Screenwriter: Rick Kerb (screenplay), Bill Holderman (screenplay), Bill Bryson (book), and Michael Arndt (earlier script) (uncredited)
Principal Cast: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, and Nick Offerman
Summary: After spending two decades in England, Bill Bryson returns to the U.S., where he decides the best way to connect with his homeland is to hike the Appalachian Trail with one of his oldest friends.
I would say there seems to be a pattern of adapting books about people who decide to go on long and challenging hikes without any real idea of what they are trying to accomplish, but it seems like just a coincidence. Wild came out last year and was about a woman who walked the Pacific Crest Trail to try and beat addiction and depression. A Walk In The Woods is about two older men walking the Appalachian Trail because they feel like they are missing something in their lives. A Walk In The Woods has been in development since 2005 which is why I think these two movies coming out within a year of each other is just strange timing, along with the increased curiosity that the public has with long distance hiking.
A Walk In The Woods is often charming and funnier than I expected, but a lack of a climax and an ending that, much like the end of a long hike, limps to the finish line with no energy.
A Walk In The Woods was a rare Sundance movie in the sense that it was produced by and starred Sundance founder Robert Redford. These days Redford is a lot less likely to be in the spotlight when it comes to the film festival, and he’s known for sneaking into movies just as they dim the lights and then leaves before the lights come back on. There was a lot of buzz about A Walk In The Woods because of Redford’s presence which is one the reasons I didn’t check it out; I knew it would get some sort of release. There is a level of charm that is felt throughout the entire movie as characters exchange witty dialogue that walks the line of believable. The movie is a lot funnier than I thought it was going to be, and while Redford and co-star Nick Nolte don’t have the best chemistry they at least play off of each other well.
However, much like someone barely dragging their feet during the last few miles of a marathon or long hike, A Walk In The Woods just sort of sputters and dies at the end. It takes a bit longer than I thought it would for the actual walking to start, even if I did appreciate that Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) seems to take the time to do a little more research than the main character of Wild. Even so they are very underprepared and while that is played up for comedic effect, in the movie being underprepared for something like the Appalachian Trail can be dangerous even more so considering their ages.
There doesn’t appear to be much of a climax and the real narrative seems to be getting Bryson and Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) to learn to get along. It feels a bit too much like a coming of age movie for the baby boomer generation, and the lack of thematic arc in that when the movie ends it just sort of ends. The only real growth we’ve seen is that two people have learned to get along and accept that they can’t stop getting old. The charm and humor between the two men is funny enough to carry the production through most of the hurdles, but it isn’t enough to elevate the production above ordinary.
A Walk In The Woods isn’t a bad movie, but when the only narrative is watching two people reminisce and get along a film lacks something. It doesn’t make for a bad movie but it does make for one that is ultimately forgettable save for the sweeping drone shots of the scenery.