2015 / Director. Ken Kwapis.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Naturist walk & talk films about self discovery are becoming commonplace in the modern cinema landscape. Films like INTO THE WILD, THE WAY and WILD have brought a most basic pilgrimage premise into the consciousness of audiences and have boasted an exhilarating window to the world around us. A WALK IN THE WOODS is the latest, based on a memoir by renowned travel writer Bill Bryson.
The film stars Robert Redford as Bryson. His globetrotting days are behind him and he finds himself stuck in a rut. The only work he ever does anymore is contributing forewords to other people’s books and when he is faced with his own mortality (and the realities of age) he acts upon a whim and decides to hike the Appalachian Trail. His wife hates the idea and pleads with him not to go. When she finally reneges, with the one condition that he doesn’t walk alone, Bryson is forced to call in an old acquaintance by the name of Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte). He’s an overweight and slobbish alcoholic whose life never amounted to much. Together they embark on one of the country’s most physically taxing hikes, spanning 2,200 miles.
I have to admit that I am a glutton for this type of film. I am an enthusiastic bush walker and I love exploring nature. And so with good cinematography and a captivating journey promoting the human spirit, I am sucked in very easily to a film like this. I have not read Bryson’s book but I am familiar with his writing and so it was a relief to see that his words translate to the screen very well.
The strength of A WALK IN THE WOODS lies within the two lead performances. Robert Redford and Nick Nolte are the unlikeliest of on-screen pairings and yet they click in a truly hilarious and moving way. Their contradictory lifestyles and polar-opposite personalities make for a very amusing adventure and each (as expected) has the power to motivate the other. They discuss everything from past exploits and experiences to regrets and ‘could-have-beens’. With a gorgeous wilderness environment surrounding them, director Ken Kwapis employs a controlled and breathtaking cinematography that brings the viewer as close to their reality as possible.
In true Bryson fashion, the story is dripping with humour. His character is always wise-cracking and the conversations are consistently amusing. There are times when they could have reined the comedy in ever so slightly to strengthen the drama, and the final act lacks the oomph that many viewers will want. But with that said, A WALK IN THE WOODS remains a fulfilling and endearing dramatic comedy with an inspiring voice. Seeing these two veteran actors pitted against nature makes it a very easy film to like.
I wonder what it is that is drawing audiences to these self-reflective wilderness films? Is it the fact that we’ve become a society dependant on the cyber world, with a reluctance to experience something in person when it can be swiped on a flat-screen? This concept is ever referenced in the film. And perhaps it’s our current state of climate change awareness that is compelling people to embrace nature while we’ve still got it? Hopefully films like this motive people to get out and explore. It’s a whole lot of fun.