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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "A Walk in the Woods" for seniors only

Sep 02, 2015 11:59PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Robert Redford and Nick Nolte in A Walk in the Woods - © Broad Green Pictures

A Walk in the Woods (Broad Green Pictures)

Rated R for language and some sexual references.

Starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal, R. Keith Harris, Randall Newsome, Hayley Lovitt, Linds Edwards, Susan McPhail, Andrew Vogel, Derek Krantz.

Written by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman, based on the book by Bill Bryson.

Directed by Ken Kwapis.



Getting old (as I can attest) is a process hindered by the idea that one can somehow skirt the process by taking small (or large) detours around the unpleasant stuff. In simpler terms, this practice is also known as “denial.” Such challenges are the backdrop for A Walk in the Woods, starring Robert Redford as a writer intent on hiking the Appalachian Trail with an old drinking buddy, despite their age.

Redford plays the real-life Bill Bryson (whose auto biographical book is the basis for the movie) a man who decides he’s going to do something grand in the face of old age. Despite reservations from his wife (Emma Thompson), Bill reluctantly accepts his old pal Steve Katz (Nick Nolte) as a hiking mate, and the pair travels to Georgia to begin the trip. Steve is unfit, crass and unrepentant about the vices he embraced in his younger years, which runs opposite to Bill’s refined persona enhanced by his many literary and academic accomplishments. These contradictory traits provide plenty of contrast between the two men as they face the challenges of the unforgiving Appalachian Trail, which spans more than 2,200 miles of rough terrain from Georgia to Maine.

The trip offers the men a chance to explore and reflect on the meaning of their lives as they connect with nature.

The existential search for meaning is where A Walk in the Woods falls short; depending instead on colorful on-liners and “old guy” sight gags. The movie’s humor is not tailored for anyone under the age of 50, as many of those groans, grunts, pratfalls and reflections on the uselessness of the younger generation may strike a chord with older audiences, much like Grumpy Old Men did for Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon in the twilight of their careers. Speaking of the original cinematic Odd Couple, the contrast between Redford’s sophisticated nature and Nolte’s rough edges is a hit-and-miss affair. The resolution between the two contrary characters never really materializes.

Nolte’s portrayal of a recovering alcoholic is one of the bright features of A Walk in the Woods. I’m troubled, however, that much of his dialogue is lost in a voice that is so raspy and guttural that I fear his next project may require subtitles.

So, if your over 50 years old and you’re looking for a few laughs as you travel down the path beyond the top of the hill, A Walk in the Woods is for you. Otherwise, it’s a movie that gets a little lost in the woods.

One more note: Redford bought the rights to Bryson's book with the hope that he and Paul Newman could play the leading roles, but Newman passed away in 2008 before production could begin. Makes you wonder what could have been.

A Walk in the Woods Trailer