Well, it’s all over. I just saw a movie, and I don’t really have anything to say about it. That means I have to close down this site now, right? As the proprietor of WeMinoredInFilm.com, I am duty bound to have some kind of opinion about everything I see, or else what are we even doing here man?
The film which has left me so flummoxed is A Walk in the Woods. It stars Robert Redford (who previously did the old man vs. nature thing in 2013’s All is Lost) and Nick Nolte as two old-friends who decide to walk the 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail, which begins in the southern portion of the United States (Georgia, North Carolina, Tennesse) and extends as far northeast as possible without simply going into Canada.
It’s based on a 1998 travel memoir written by Bill Bryson about that one time he tried to hike the trail with an overweight, recovering alcoholic old friend named Stephen Katz, who was even less prepared for the trip than him. Redford plays Bryson while Nolte brings his steadily growing frame and barely decipherable alcohol/smoke damaged garble of a voice to Katz. Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen get the thankless roles of Bryson’s concerned wife and trail temptress respectively.
To save you from doing the math in your head, I looked it up and found out that Thompsons is 23 years younger than Redford. Not that such age gaps are uncommon, especially in Hollywood (look at Annette Bening and Warren Beatty), but the person I saw the movie with did ask afterward, “Is Emma Thompson really old enough to be Redford’s wife?” Eh, they’re lovely together, and more Emma Thompsons in anything is never a bad thing.
The reason I don’t have that much to say about A Walk in the Woods is largely because A Walk in the Woods doesn’t appear to have much to say either. As directed by Ken Kwapis, best known for his work behind the camera on multiple episodes of the US version of The Office, A Walk in the Woods starts off as something perfectly pleasant, gives way to a series of sitcom sequences, occasionally nods in the direction of “What does any of this really mean?” philosophizing before ending and saying, “Well, that was pleasant, wasn’t it?” In fact, at one point Bryson and Katz are in a perilous, life-threatening situation, and neither Redford nor Nolte really rise above a “Well gosh” reaction.
That’s because most everything in this movie is purposefully underplayed. Bryson and Katz haven’t seen each other in decades, but there’s little time devoted to why exactly they drifted apart and more to their randy remembrances of all the women they met when they hiked trails together in their youth. The big central question of the story is why exactly would two old men take an impossible hike that 75% of all people fail to complete? On multiple occasions, Bryson explains that he can’t explain why he wants to do it, flustering his understandably worried wife and disapproving adult son. It’s just something he needs to do. He’s not even doing it so that he’ll have something to write about in his next book, although that’s obviously what the real Bryson ended up doing. By the time the inevitable grand moment arrives where he reaches some kind of understanding as to why he’s on the journey, it’s not in some flowery awards-baiting monologue. It’s in a casual conversation between two old friends where more is said through facial expressions and reactions than words, and ever-present in the background is the beautiful imagery of the Appalachian Trail.
That’s the type of movie A Walk in the Woods is. It is a travel memoir come to life, broken up by the occasional “Let’s have them do something funny in a small town close to the trail” sequence. It’s the type of movie where a seemingly endless supply of rustic Lord Huron songs play over wide shots and montages of two guys walking along beautiful terrain, and the main character occasionally says things like, “You see this here? You can see all three different kinds of rock types in just this one setting. Wow, geological time makes us seems so small.” That’s why I joked in the title of the review that the whole thing appears to have been brought to us by the Appalachian Trail Tourism Board, assuming such a thing exists. A Walk In the Woods makes you want to, if not hike a small portion of the Trail, then at least do a solid Google Image search.
The BOTTOM LINE
Sometimes to its detriment, A Walk in the Woods is a perfectly pleasant viewing experience, one which I enjoyed. The sardonic Redford and boisterous Nolte are a good comic duo, even if you do sometimes fail to understand what the hell Nolte is saying. While it appears as if there could have possibly been more emotional depth to the story, there’s also a counter-argument that Redford and Nolte work through their issues more like real human beings would and less like movie characters. Plus, wow, the Appalachian Trail does truly look gorgeous.
Huh. I guess I had more to say about A Walk in the Woods than I thought, and I never had to resort to riffing about confusing A Walk in the Woods with Keanue Reeves’ A Walk in the Clouds.
RottenTomatoes Consensus (45%) | “Amiable yet less compelling than any road trip movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte should be, A Walk in the Woods is ultimately a bit too pedestrian”