There are many movies that come along that we like the idea of better than we actually like. While A Walk In the Woods isn’t the most prime example of that, it is still an example.
Two septuagenarian friends take it upon themselves to hike the Appalachian Trail–a 2100 mile trek through the mountain wilderness. After attending a funeral of a friend, the cynical writher, Bill Bryson (Robert Redford), is faced with a late-life crisis. He is compelled to take the journey of a lifetime, but can’t find anyone to go with him. Finally, he gets a phone call from a long lost friend, Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), with whom he has purposely lost touch with. Stephen is very rough around the edges and doesn’t know when to draw the line most of the time (telling Bill’s grandchildren about a sexual exploit that Bill experienced in his youth). With everyone objecting to the idea of them going on this excursion–especially Bill’s wife, Catherine (Emma Thompson)–they are motivated even more to take the trip and prove their youth.
Never is it apparent that the movie isn’t great, until the end when you realize that nothing really happened. Before that you just keep waiting for that moment when the whole thing clicks. But there just isn’t nearly enough conflict, and at no point do I feel like their lives are in danger. You start off thinking that the characters have a lot to lose–such as their lives–but when it’s over you question why you even thought that.
The script is just about as transparent as its characters. Towards the beginning, Bill and his wife are attending a memorial party and Bill wants to leave. Catherine tells him that he should stay and try talking to people. But Bill responds with, “I don’t like talking to people.” But why? They’ve been married 40 years, shouldn’t his wife already know this? It was obviously added to inform the audience, but we aren’t that dumb either. We can clearly see that his character is curmudgeonly.
This film was originally supposed to star Paul Newman alongside Redford. Sadly the film didn’t get made in time. But we can’t complain about Nolte’s antics gracing the screen. Not that the two leads play anyone other than themselves, but it’s still refreshing to watch.
They do have a fun chemistry and there are some scenes that are pretty enjoyable. It’s a completely harmless movie–which, much of the time, is its downfall.
You really want to love this film, but it just feels like an excuse for the actors and crew to film a movie in the Appalachians. However, with that said, it’s never a bad watch, and one I could even see again.