Based on the Bill Bryson book of the same name, “A Walk in the Woods” follows a 1994 (the book was published in 1998) attempt by the then mid-forties Bryson and an old pal (Stephen Katz) to walk the Appalachian trail. Robert Redford optioned the tale with his old buddy Paul Newman in mind as costar. Sadly, Newman died and the project languished a bit before Nick Nolte came on board.
Directed by Ken Kwapis (He’s Just Not That Into You, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) with a screenplay co-written by Michael Arndt and Bill Holderman based on the Bryson book; “A Walk in the Woods” is pedestrian by nature. The film moves at a 70 year old’s pace (although in the film, both Katz and Bryson are in their 60s) and this gentle comedy amuses despite its creaky pace.
There are some impressive pedigrees attached to the feature. British actress Emma Thompson (a double Oscar winner), Mary Steenburgen (another Oscar winner) and Redford (yet another winner of the little gold chap) and Nolte (an Oscar nominee). With such an august cast there can little to complain about in terms of performance.
The delightful Kristen Schaal (The Last Man on Earth, 30 Rock) is brilliant as the companion from Hell and she provided a bit of obvious comic relief.
“A Walk in the Woods” is a leisurely tale of two older men who want to do something of significance and learning about themselves along the way. The message being that one is never too old to learn more about what makes them tick.
The film, which moves about as slowly as both Redford and Nolte do along the trail, is a gentle look at two men who lost touch with one another getting reacquainted and it is amusing. There are however very few laugh out loud moments, although the jealous husband at the hotel is funny.
Kwapis takes moments to remind the audience of where the two men are. Spectacular scenery and panoramic views take the breath away and one feels the pull to grab a backpack, tent and walking poles and join the exodus along the trail.
There are a few scenes where Bryson remarks on the ecological state of the trail and speaks of the decline of the Chestnut tree, but overall this is an older buddy film. It is not unlike the Canadian Indie film “Land Ho.” While not based upon a Bryson travelogue the pacing and general feeling is not too dissimilar.
It is not a boring film, just very slow paced and an ambling sort of entertainment. The chemistry between the bluff, and often very florid, Nolte and the svelte yet prickly Redford is amusing enough and it is delightful to see these two old pros show how it should be done.
Steenburgen is captivating in her role as the hotelier who is clearly interested in Redford’s character. Emma Thompson convinces as the spouse who knows her husband inside out and finds his past memories with Katz somewhat amusing.
“A Walk in the Woods” is a 3 star film. Nothing to really write home about but it is entertaining in its own way. A little slow and rambling, a bit like the walk along the Appalachian trail itself. Worth a look as it is on Amazon Prime at the moment.