Here’s the scene: Two men in their 70s are attempting to hike the Appalachian Trail. When they reach a river crossing, they pause for a moment to contemplate their predicament. As they wait, a pair of sprightly young men bound along and proceed to hop across the river, no problem. The older men shrug and then decide to give it a try themselves.
What comes next?
If you guessed “the two older men both fall backpack-first into the river after only a few steps”, congratulations– you have somehow just predicted and unraveled the most intricate and surprising plot point of A Walk in the Woods.
Based on Bill Bryson’s autobiographical travelogue, the film stars Robert Redford as Bryson, who decides one day that he needs to attempt to hike the 2,000-mile trail. Joining him is his estranged friend Katz (Nick Nolte) who volunteers to make the hike despite being fifty pounds overweight with two bad knees.
The two men head out, over the objections of Bryson’s wife (Emma Thompson, in a thankless role), and proceed to meet all kinds of deadly, harrowing obstacles– including a gentle incline, a talkative hiker, and the aforementioned river. Heck, it’s an hour into the movie (and two months into their trip) before we even see some rain.
Redford and Nolte both prove that they’re more-than-capable of still turning in great performances, but it’s a little perplexing why they’d sign on for this boring mess; surely this isn’t the best role either is being offered these days.
The decision by director Ken Kwapis (Big Miracle) to turn A Walk in the Woods into a lazy, slapstick-filled farce is perhaps the most disappointing part of the whole project. The story, Bryson, Katz, the trail, and the actors all deserve better.
A lot closer to actually being “A Bland, Milquetoast Mosey Along a Dirt Path”, the movie may evoke thoughts of Reese Witherspoon’s Wild or Martin Sheen’s The Way, but make no mistake– there’s nothing “wild” about A Walk in the Woods. There’s more drama in your morning walk to the coffee maker… whether you slip on a banana peel or not.