If you’ve seen any publicity for the movie A Walk in the Woods, you might be thinking it’s a Wild for the older gentleman, and the East coast. And you couldn’t be faulted for thinking that, but there’s a little more (or, a little less) to it than that.
Bill Bryson is a writer I admire and have read widely. This is the story of how he decided to walk the 2000-plus miles of the Appalachian trail and how his wife nearly derailed that trip by demanding that he not get murdered while on it. What a bitch. So Bill Bryson empties out his little black book calling everyone in his Rolodex and then a few more, plus their grandmothers and pool boys, but none of them are as fond of bleeding feet, tin can dinners, and getting eaten by bears as he is, and so he scrapes the bottomest bottom of the barrel by accepting the company of a man he hasn’t been in touch with for decades (and for good reason).
These two men are played by Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.
Robert Redford has been trying to get this movie made for 15 years, and originally imagined it as a vehicle for himself and buddy Paul Newman. Unfortunately that pairing didn’t work out (Newman passed away in 2008) but it’s hard to see him in the role looking half as grizzled and damaged as Nolte does. He’s exceedingly convincing as someone on the constant verge of cardiac arrest.
This movie doesn’t pack the emotional punch that Wild does, nor does it mean to. It’s an odd-
couple buddy movie, just two old guys cracking wise and getting into elderly shenanigans along the way. And it’s fun. Bryson is a witty guy, and script writers Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman keep the one-liners coming. They’re getting quippy with it.
Emma Thompson as Bryson’s wife, and Nick Offerman as a knowledgeable salesman, are grossly underused. Even more criminally neglected: the scenery, which we know is there, and is beautiful, but the camera forgets to dwell on it. Wild’s cinematography capitalized on the wide open spaces but A Walk in the Woods plays it a little too cool.
I was wary when I heard about this movie. Redford struck me as way too old to play the part (I remembered Bryson as being maybe 40ish in the book) and he is, but the story’s tweaked enough that it becomes a gentle treatise on aging and living a meaningful life and the value old friends. But substantial? Not so much. It’s pretty much exactly what it says it is: a nice little stroll through the woods.