Director: Ken Kwapis
Starring: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman, Kristen Schall, R. Keith Harris
Written by: Rick Kerb, Bill Holderman and (based on the novel) Bill Bryson
Running Time: 104 mins
Release date: 18th September 2015
The books of Bill Bryson and his various adventures around the world have made him almost a household name in the land of travel writing. However, none have been translated into film until now, his most personal journey. His humourous exploits as he walks the infamous Appalachian Trail is the perfect tale for the big screen, yet the film becomes more about two aging movie stars falling over a lot.
Having travelled the world, Bill Bryson has settled down in America with his English wife, Catherine. Yet he feels there is something missing in his life. Coming across a pathway that leads to the famous Appalachian Trail, a 2,000 mile hike from Georgia to Maine, Bill decides this is something he has to do. After being turned down by all his friends to join him, he receives a call from Stephen Katz, an old friend who he went through Europe with and who drove him crazy. Katz is the only one willing to take the trip. Will it be different this time? Or will they be at each other throats again?
Originally intended as a vehicle for Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Bryson’s tale has been on the cards since the late 90’s but alas things didn’t go to plan and when Newman died in 2008, it seemed the project was all but over. Redford, a huge fan of the book, kept hope and called in Nick Nolte to take the role that Newman was to play. The result is a very leisurely stroll with some nice scenery and, frankly, little else.
The trouble with Ken Kwapis’s film is that it feels too safe, relying heavily on the interaction of the two stars. Redford, with his mahogany tan yet looking rather leathery now, still has that star quality that he has had since making his first screen appearance back in the 60’s, while Notle, with his grumbling voice harden from years of the good life, looks and sounds like the grizzly bears the two men are trying to steer clear of.
Along the way, they banter, they argue, they complain about old age, act as if they are 50 years younger, which is pleasant enough but that’s about all it is. It never really goes deeper than two old men trying to cling onto their youth. Mary Steenburgen pops up as the manager of a motel and seem to have a fixation with Redford to the point of almost star-struck, while Emma Thompson is hardly pushed in the acting stakes as Bryson’s long-suffering wife.
So we watch as the two leads amble along the trail, falling into rivers, falling over cliffs and crushing each other on a bunk bed. It’s all basic slapstick that raises a smile but doesn’t burst the sides with laughter. Apart from the occasional four-letter expletive, this is the kind of film that would be packed out during the matinée screenings and would go down well with a cup of tea and a biscuit.
A Walk In The Woods is perfectly fine but with the talent involved and the source material used, you do tend to expect something deeper and more intelligent. It’s entertaining enough but there’s part of you that yearns for more.