A Walk in the Woods (2015)

Directed by Ken Kwapis

Contains spoilers.

Bill Bryson's bestseller is, by all accounts, a fantastic read. The movie is a different story. With Robert Redford playing Bryson and Nick Nolte as his friend, Stephen Katz, the movie should be shortlisted for awards, but the movie fizzles it's promise away.

Bryson, an accomplished writer of travel books, is tired. He's not tired of life, just tired of everyone being so... condescending and basically just accepting their lots in life. Bryson is a traveler, he enjoys change and new experiences, while everyone else his age is content with complacency, a fact which reveals itself when none of his friends take him up on an offer to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail with him. The more than 2,000 miles is daunting to everyone but an old travel companion, Stephen Katz. Though out of touch with each other, Katz hears about the plans and accepts, traveling from Iowa to join Bryson. The two set off together, making slow progress. As they travel, they talk, catch up, and share memories and revelations. With Katz often wanting to give up or take shortcuts Bryson pushes and prods to go onwards, to complete the adventure.

Robert Redford proved to audiences everywhere that he could helm a movie on his own, with ease and charisma. Nick Nolte is a deep-voiced tour de force of method acting. Emma Thompson is a lovable leading lady. Nick Offerman, as any character, is what every man should wish to be. Kristen Schaal is a hilariously quirky one. Mary Steenburgen has a storied resume. Actors of this caliber should be able to make easy work of a story like this. And yet it fails to capture, instead proving to be a quintessential letdown.

With casting like this, the fault must lay with the script. Second-tier characters flit through and through, providing some comic relief but no other qualities of note. The movie itself is supposed to be a comedy of more grown-up fair, but the comedy is slowly paced. Redford's Bryson is the utmost depiction of a father, with dad-jokes and his hilarious experiences shining in his interaction with Nolte's Katz.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly where the fault lies, because Bryson's story should be a fun and entertaining yarn. The characters aren't everything that they should be, and the script feels almost documentarian in nature. It could be a problem with the soundtrack, which doesn't add to the atmosphere or experience but rather explains exactly what every scene is going to be. The comfortable pace at start promptly slows as the pair of friends hike, drawing away from the comedy of each moment as they're underpinned by lengths of almost nothing.

A Walk in the Woods is an experience of subtlety. It doesn't subtitle Bryson's revelations, letting the audience draw their own conclusions from his story. Despite this, the movie ends up being exactly as the title suggests: a long walk in the woods. That's not to say that it's a boring film, because it isn't. There's plenty of entertainment, plenty of jokes, and nothing less than great acting.

The movie is supposed to be one of discovery, with each character learning from the other. But as the movie's slow pace continues, it seems less like discovery and more like tolerance. Bryson said about Katz that they started they're European travels not getting along, ending it by hating each other. This time, with their more advanced age, they seem quite content to start their hike together, actually enjoying the time. They start to annoy each other, but beyond learning to adapt to and accept each other, in essence learning to tolerate the other for each one's stubbornness, there doesn't seem to be much growth or discovery. And the result is a long hike where the pair seem to rag each other on, with Bryson repeatedly saying he's there for the experience and not to write another book, constantly trying to convince himself, Katz, and the audience that the distance is worth it.

 

TL;DR: There aren't a lot of movies that sound exactly like the title. But this is one of those movies. If you enjoy isolation and self reflection and beautiful shots of mountains then this will be a great movie for you, but it's increasingly slow pace and lackluster journey will feel like a 20-minute sitcom that's stretched far longer than it's material warrants.

  • Acting – 16 / 20
  • Story – 8 / 20
  • Cinematography – 12 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 5 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 5 / 10
  • Drama/Comedy/Bio – 6 / 10
  • Other – 5 / 10
 

Grade F = 47 / 100