A Walk in the Woods was a must see for me. Not because I’ve read the book, which shamefully I haven’t, but because I once set out to spend three weeks on the Appalachian Trail. Unbearably heavy rucksack strapped to my back, me and three friends started in the exact same place Robert Redford and Nick Nolte do in this film. Except we were sweating a hell of a lot more thanks to Georgia’s unbearable humidity. The fact that I only made it twenty-four hours before hitchhiking off the trail and that it was one of the worst twenty-four hours of my life is neither here nor there.
Based off the highly successful travel book of the same name, by Bill Bryson. A Walk in the Woods really lives up to its title. It’s a merry jaunt along the Appalachian Trail with two very talented actors portraying Bryson (Redford) and his down on his luck friend Stephen Katz (Nolte). Sadly, it struggles to ever become anything more than a jaunt. It’s not bad, it is just alright and at its worst it feels like a Robert Redford vanity project. Something which comes out as attractive motel owners start fluttering their eyelids at him the second he walks into the room.
That’s not to say it’s without laughs. Nolte and Redford have a nice on-screen chemistry and there is something enjoyable about watching them traipse through the woods bickering and exchanging old stories. The problem is that they are often overshadowed by those very woods. The Appalachian Trail is gorgeous and is truly this film’s secret weapon. It’s so beautiful that for just a few minutes I wished I was back before I snapped to my senses.
On the flip side, he films biggest flaw comes in its lack of set pieces. Readers of the book point towards the moment where Bryson and Katz come in contact with a family of bears. A section which is said to inspire hysterics. In the film, it is funny, but it’s nothing more than that. It’s a throwaway moment in a film filled with throwaway moments. It’s baffling as to why this wasn’t made more of and yet Redford’s flirtation with the aforementioned motel owner is stretched across several scenes.
Not quite as baffling however as the decision to hire Emma Thompson and then leave her at home for the entire movie is. As Bryson’s wife Catherine, she is nothing more than someone to tell him he is too old for this stuff and it feels an awful waste of one of our best actresses.
A Walk in the Woods is fun, but it’s by no means essential. The hour and a half you spend in its company will most likely fly by as you marvel at the scenery and chuckle at its jokes. However, by the time it all comes to an end you’ll look back and realise it was an entirely hollow experience. There is no depth to this film and it doesn’t exactly leave you feeling satisfied. It lives up to its name, rather than the exciting and unpredictable trail it is set on.