It is a pleasure to welcome back to the screen Robert Redford in a role he had cherished for a long time and seemed destined to play – that of Bill Bryson – in Ken Kwapis' screen adaptation of Bryson's 1998 book A Walk in the Woods (released nationwide September 11 2015).
With his grandchildren coming of age and friends and acquaintances passing away, ageing travel writer Bill (Redford) has a fear of mortality and, worrying that there is little time to spare, makes a random decision to hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. His English wife Cathy (Emma Thompson on fine form) considers this determined whim to be foolish and dangerous at his age. She insists that at least he should not travel alone. No one else is tempted to join him, but unexpectedly, he receives a voice from the past – a call from fellow Iowa native Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte in a role he makes his own) who invites himself along. Bill hasn't heard from Stephen for decades, not since they had a youthful falling out when travelling in Europe.
Bill hasn't been much of a hiker for a good 30 years or so. But he's in Olympian shape compared to the human wreck that is Katz – fat, grizzled, short of breath and unsteady on his feet, He also claims to be a recovering alcoholic, but that's questionable.
As they trudge north, they have encounters with an obnoxious young backpacker, take a few pratfalls, scare off some bears and occasionally stop to recoup at the nearest hotel. At one stopover, Bill flirts with an attractive, lonely motel and restaurant owner (Mary Steenburgen), while Katz gets in hot water pursuing a local woman who turns out to have a very jealous husband.
Anyone expecting this epic journey to provide profound insights in to the human condition will be disappointed. The film is unpretentious and does not pose as something it isn't. Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman's screenplay is competent but uninspired. There are however, some genuinely funny scenes, most notably at the beginning when Bryson/Redford gives an awkward TV interview and then says all the wrong things at a friend's funeral. It is amusing and honest that such an accomplished writer is shown as having such a bad way with words socially, although he manages to communicate well with his spouse.
The film is further boosted by some splendid aerial location shots and on the whole provides an entertaining, if unsubstantial, evening at the cinema.
Walk in the Woods
Showing in cinemas nationwideLast modified: September 11, 2015