“A Walk in the Woods is a decidedly amiable picture”
A Walk in the Woods is precisely what I expected from a comedy-drama about two geezers hiking across the Appalachian Trail as a means of reacquainting themselves with the soil of their homeland. This is a film for the often neglected baby-boomer crowd that doesn’t get out to see films quite often, mainly because most of what’s out doesn’t appeal to them. Amidst the noise of Straight Outta Compton, the mind-numbing nonsense of Hitman: Agent 47 and The Transporter: Refueled, there’s this low-key gem that provides for a restful trip to the theater.
The film is a biopic of author Bill Bryson (Robert Redford), who has lived out the last two decades exploring Britain and authoring books before returning to New Hampshire and living peacefully with his wife. In his sixties, he has put writing to the side, living out the last years of his life in solitude and tranquility, but is suddenly moved by the death of a friend enough to have one last adventure in him. Spontaneously, he comes up with the idea to hike over 2,000 miles along the Appalachian Trail as a testament to the will of a person and to become reacquainted with the soil he left decades ago.
He inquires numerous friends, most of whom dismiss him in rude or casual ways, and figures that he’ll have no one to embark on this journey with. Again, out of nowhere, Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) a former friend from Bill’s homestate of Iowa, phones and vocalizes his excitement about the trip. However, upon meeting one another, we see that Bill, a lean, well-built man, even for sixty, poses a stark contrast to Stephen, a portly, unkempt alcoholic in remission with the voice of a phlegm-filled smoker and the look of a street bum. The two set course for the long haul ahead of them by packing heavily and working to rekindle the fire that was their friendship.
No matter which way you dissect the film, A Walk in the Woods belongs to Redford and Nolte. Here are two veteran actors who, much like their characters, have a great deal of experience under their belts and know how to command a screen. Giving these actors the Appalachian Trail as their playground is like giving a seasoned artist a paintbrush and as much free time as he or she needs; they will just do what they do best and surprise you every step of the way.
Screenwriters Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman, working off of Bryson’s biography of the same name, exhaust the humor possibilities of Redford and Nolte, and while a handful come in the form of situational comedy, most come from their casual conversations and musings on life. Redford’s conservative, mild-mannered presence contrasted with Nolte’s vulgar, brutally honest demeanor, with a voice that seems to speak from the realms of pain, doubt, and years of alcohol dependency, create the age-old contrast in a buddy movie. Looking past formula and basic structure, Redford and Nolte know how to make this simple script work and that is by way of charm and emphasis on character and life experience.
This is a more straightforward film than last year’s Wild, which, while very strong, was bogged down by a heavy emphasis on symbolism and too much exposition. Here, the humor in the film is consistent enough to call this a comedy and the drama is just enough to make you feel without being overwhelmed. Much like the chemistry on display here, A Walk in the Woods is a decidedly amiable picture, predicated off of simplicities and amiable charm that’s good for a few chuckles and, all-around, is a peaceful close to a summer featuring a wide variety of strong and memorable films.