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A Walk in the Woods




A Walk in the Woods (R)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

09/10/15
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



A Walk in the Woods (R)

A travel writer decides to walk the Appalachian Trail in A Walk in the Woods, a charmless adaptation of the 1998 book by Bill Bryson.
As the movie tells it, “Bill Bryson” (Robert Redford) decides to shake up his life of book reissues and acquaintances’ funerals by hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. His wife, Catherine (Emma Thompson), does not want him to go but will reluctantly agree to his plan if he finds someone to walk it with. 
(A word about this: I have no idea how old Redford’s Bryson or his wife are supposed to be in this movie. As has been noted elsewhere, the real-life Bryson did the hiking described here when he was in his 40s. Redford, today, is 79. The movie seems to treat him and Thompson, who is 56, as sort of the same age. And they have what appears to be an, at least, 30something son and teenaged grandchildren. The overall affect of this age strangeness was that it made unnecessarily vague one of the few pieces of information we’re ever given about this character who, ultimately, we get to know so little anyway.)
After he’s turned down by pretty much everybody he knows, childhood friend Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) calls him up, having heard about Bryson’s plans from a mutual friend, and asks to go along. Though Katz isn’t the most in-shape guy in the world — one knee is titanium, the other is his “trick” knee — Bryson, eager to take the trip, agrees to bring him along. The men set out slowly at first — huffing and puffing and ready to call it a day after about a mile — but eventually learn to cope with life on the trail and each other. 
As it happens, I recently read a few of Bryson’s books (in particular, two on the English language and a biography of Shakespeare — I highly recommend all three). He has a very merry authorial voice — his writing style is buoyant and enthusiastic, capable of getting you as excited about whatever he’s talking about as he seems to be. The movie has none of that. It’s charmlessness was so surprising that I actually revisited the book A Walk in the Woods after seeing the movie to try to figure out what went wrong. There is a vein of grumpiness that borders on mean-spiritedness that runs throughout this movie. And a lot of those moments actually come from scenes in the book but somehow, in the book, presented in the context of all of Bryson’s thoughts about hiking and the trail, it’s not quite as jarring. 
Book Bryson is a funnier, more erudite version of a regular, layered human attempting something difficult; Redford’s Bryson is a one-note sourpuss. While Nolte is able to bring some life to Katz, Redford’s performance is weirdly inert. There is about half an inch of difference between “happy Bryson” and  “thinking he’s going to die Bryson,” as Redford portrays him, keeping our central character a guy we never get to know and never particularly want to know, who trades in a very bland, unoriginal Last-Vegas-style old-dude-movie humor.
A Walk in the Woods has some nice trail imagery — the physical suffering might be worth it if those really are the views you get of the Smoky Mountains — but never makes its characters layered enough to justify the time we spend with them. C-
Rated R for language and some sexual references. Directed by Ken Kwapis with a screenplay by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman (from the book by Bill Bryson), A Walk in the Woods is an hour and 44 minutes long and distributed by Broad Green.  





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