Directed by Ken Kwapis. Produced by Robert Redford, Bill Holderman, and Chip Diggins. Written by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman. Release date: September 2, 2015.
Over the last few years we’ve had a variety of “people go for a really long hike” movies. Some of them have been great, some of them have been awful, and now we have A Walk in the Woods, which fits somewhere in the middle. It’s not a terrible watch, but it also feels like it should have been much, much better, especially given the talent involved. Here’s a movie that focuses primarily on two great actors, and yet it can only be classified as “decent” if you’re feeling generous.
Those two actors are Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. The former plays Bill Bryson, a real person whose memoir served as the basis for A Walk in the Woods‘ screenplay. He’s a writer who decides that, despite being nowhere near proper shape to do so, he wants to hike the Appalachian Trail. His wife (Emma Thompson), agrees to let him attempt it if he can find someone to go with him. Enter Stephen Katz (Nolte), someone Bryson hasn’t seen in a few decades and is in even worse shape than he is. Off to the trail they go! The rest of the movie takes place on the Appalachian Trail, as the two men face various obstacles, reminisce about past events, and “find themselves,” as characters in these movies often have to do.
The idea here is that Redford and Nolte are so good at acting that just by being put together and given ample time to talk to one another, they’ll be able to give us a compelling movie. It almost works. There are definitely some funny moments, as well as one or two points of good drama, but most of the time it feels like they’re just walking and doing nothing else of consequence. The various challenges they have to overcome are “funny” solely because they’re not spring chickens anymore, and there’s rarely any doubt that they’ll be able to overcome them, anyway, since it’s that type of movie. They also act more as comedic punchlines than genuine roadblocks. Even bears can’t act as genuine threats to our heroes. (See Backcountry if you want a good recent “killer bear” movie.)
I’ll give A Walk in the Woods credit, though, for having an ending that’s not as predictable as it could have been. Anyone who’s familiar with Bryson’s story will obviously know what happened, but I wasn’t, and as such the ending came as a bit of a surprise. It really is about the journey and not the destination, the movie claims, which I suppose is an apt metaphor for life. It’s too bad that its journey wasn’t more involving or more exciting.
A Walk in the Woods is an “old person” hiking movie that’s about as exciting as that description sounds.
Part of the problem is that a good deal of the hike involves Redford and Nolte talking about events that happened to their characters years and years ago, but haven’t altered their characters or have any reason to resonate with the audience. They’re occasionally funny stories, sure, but that’s it. There’s nothing to them, and when that’s a significant portion of the film, the audience needs some reason to care. If they were in any way revealing, perhaps they’d feel like they served more of a purpose than simple filler; as they are, they waste time and fill silences.
Redford and Nolte are undeniably good actors. They even have good chemistry together. Redford plays the classy family man, while Nolte plays the recovering alcoholic. Those character types fit rather well with the actors playing them. And it’s true that the two men have good chemistry together. I just wish they were given something more interesting to do with their time. A good movie could be made from this premise, just as one could be made with these two men sitting across from each other at a table for a couple of hours. But A Walk in the Woods winds up being nothing more than a distraction that you’ll forget about shortly after it ends. It has no staying power. The most memorable part is a key scene that’s so obviously shot in a studio, not the woods, that it’s distracting.
A Walk in the Woods is an “old person” hiking movie that’s about as exciting as that description sounds. There are a few moments of genuine humor, there’s only one scene that’s truly terrible, and Redford and Nolte are good, but there’s so little to it that it serves little purpose more than being a distraction you’ll forget about it in a couple of hours. It’s not this year’s Wild, unfortunately. If it’s about the journey, not the destination, then this journey isn’t one worth watching.
Bottom Line: A Walk in the Woods is pleasant but forgettable.
Recommendation: A Walk in the Woods is the type of movie you watch on cable on a rainy day when you have literally nothing else to do.[rating=2]