A Walk in the Woods (2015)
Directed by Ken Kwapis
Aging gracefully in Hollywood has less to do with your physical appearance and more to do with your project selection. Actors like Morgan Freeman and Robert De Niro seem to have decided that money and exposure is all that matters. On the other hand, Robert Redford and Emma Thompson, while neither are free from the stains of one or two bad movies, have been choosier, picking projects with redeeming qualities. One of those is “A Walk in the Woods,” a charming and heartwarming comedy based on the memoir by Bill Bryson.
It’s the mid-1990s, and travel writer Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) is doing a television interview on a Boston television station when he’s asked why, in all his years, he never wrote about America. The question made him think, and it stuck with him even after he returned to his home in New Hampshire. Despite his wife’s (Emma Thompson) concerns, Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail. Except the only person he could find willing to take the hike with him is an old friend, Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), now living in Iowa, whom he’d lost touch with decades ago after they met in Europe. The trail is rough, but even when all is lost they stick to it, mostly out of stubbornness, as the old friends make up lost ground under extreme conditions and unique circumstances.
“A Walk in the Woods” is a fine concept, but it occasionally devolves into silly subplots that distract us from what could be two hours of honest conversation and coming to terms with a long life of fond memories and sad regrets. But there is some of that—those are the best parts of “A Walk in the Woods.” When it sticks to the point, the film tells a hopeful and endearing story of love and friendship.
Emma Thompson pours herself into every role, no matter the amount of screen time her character receives or the pedigree of the picture. So it’s a shame that her character here only gets a few pivotal scenes. She leaves you wanting more. Nick Nolte takes a recovering alcoholic character, a type that so often doesn’t receive proper representation, and makes a lovable, dimensional character out of Stephen Katz. “A Walk in the Woods” was a ten-year passion project for Robert Redford. That the memoir was rife with a conservationist message was probably part and parcel to his decision to make sure this book made it to the big screen. I hope he’s proud of the movie he made. “A Walk in the Woods” is visually breathtaking, and some of the larger-scale shots are complemented by an Americana soundtrack that makes for the perfect hiking playlist. Every once in a while I’ll come across a movie that belongs in my own collection. This is one of those movies. Despite its flaws, “A Walk in the Woods” leaves you feeling happy and hopeful. You can’t go wrong with that.