A Walk in the Woods review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
A Walk in the Woods is a picture entirely reliant on its pairing of Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. Both of them are seasoned actors and both do well in nearly every role they’re given. But what they have to work with in this picture isn’t much. One would think that a stroll through nature would hold some great discoveries in character, especially for two such old guys with a wealth of experiences. This isn’t that movie. Yet again, this is a picture where two aged actors are trotted out for easy comedy.
It starts out promising enough with Robert Redford playing Bill Bryson, a man who decides to hike the Appalachian Trail. This doesn’t please his wife Catherine (Emma Thompson), especially since he doesn’t have much of any motivation to do so. She agrees to let him hike as long as his old buddy Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) joins him on his journey. The two of them have a great dynamic and I couldn’t wait to hear their banter. I also couldn’t wait for the script that matched their talent which apparently never arrived for this movie.
In place of character development amid survival, A Walk in the Woods plays out in a more sitcom fashion of salty language and slapstick humor. The duo fall into rivers, run across bears, slide down rocks and get stuck in mud. When they’re not trying to kill themselves, they’re laughing about the women they’ve known as ugly broads or easy sluts. When they’re not doing that, they attempt to be serious and emotional that at this point is too cornball to attempt, but the movie still hopelessly tries to find some drama.
Again, the key selling point is Nolte and Redford. They’re the only reason I kept watching this telegraphed comedy continue to go downhill, hoping that they could find something to salvage out of this mess. Thankfully, there are a few moments where, if only briefly, the duo is given some solid scenes of back and forth. I watched these scenes more with my imagination at what could have been a better movie for them. They deserve far better than just another simple road trip movie disguised as an elderly comedy.
Ken Kwapis directs this picture in the same manner he directed his other simple comedies of He’s Just Not That Into You and License to Wed. He tries way too hard to find humor in the woods and then cram in the sentimentality to make up for it. His approach to Nolte and Redford is less “what can they do?” and more “what can we do to them?” I don’t want to compare this movie to the far superior nature walk film Wild, but the flat-on-its-face delivery of nearly every scene had me pining for a movie with more character. This movie doesn’t even belong in the same category as Wild - it exists as though it were from a universe where old people headline comedies usually suited for juvenile actors in their 20’s.
The movie is based on the true events of Bill Bryson that documented his adventure in a book of the same name. During the actual walk, Bryston and Katz were 44. Redford and Nolte are too old for these roles as much as they are for this type of comedy.