A Walk in the Woods is the screen adaptation of the memoir by Bill Bryson. When he realizes that his life is becoming stale, Bill Bryson decides to set himself a challenge. Even though he is knocking on a bit, his overwhelming need for adventure gets the better of him. So, he decides to hike the 2200 mile long Appalachian Trail that passes nearby his home. No mean feat, for the fittest of people, but when his old friend Stephen Katz offers to join him, this epic journey is about to become significantly harder. Katz is a washed-up soul, with several warrants of arrest to his name. Will they die trying to complete the trail or kill each other.
Now, in recent years there have been a host of adventurous true stories that have made it to the screen with great success. For instance, Sean Penn's ‘Into the Wild' gathered a cult audience, as did the film ‘Wild' starring Reese Witherspoon. So, it's clear the A Walk in the Woods was clearly trying to pick up some of the same success. However, A Walk in the Woods falls way short of either of these films. The director, Ken Kwapis does a reasonable job with the incredible scenery. But, that's about it. The script is lame and the score is more like a TV production.
For me, the whole film felt a little self-indulgent. There seems to be a good reason for that. A Walk in the Woods is a long term pet project of Robert Redford. Redford clearly is a fan of the book and noticed the potential of the story. Originally he had wanted to produce the film starring himself as Bill Bryson and Paul Newman as Katz. But the project was shelved when Paul Newman became ill and sadly passed away. I have to admit, seeing Robert Redford and Paul Newman back on screen together would have been pretty amazing. Plus, the directors and screenwriters involved at that point would have done a much better job.
When Redford re-ignited the project, he still wanted himself to play Bryson. But, his choice for Katz turned to Nick Nolte. Now, this was a masterstroke, because Nolte plays the part incredibly well. He actually saves this film from being terrible. Robert Redford is ok but seems overly relaxed with his part. It appears that as executive producer, the director Ken Kwapis has limited to no power over his performance and it all feels a little smug from Redford. Between the two, Nick Nolte steals the show completely.
The other thing that carries A Walk in the Woods, is the supporting cast. Oscar-winner Emma Thompson (Barney Thomson) is cast as Bill Bryson's wife Catherine. Now she is as brilliant as always but is drastically underused. Comedian, Kristen Schaal is great as a deeply annoying hiker who the two men try to lose along the way. On top of this Mary Steenburgen, has a very odd part of a motel owner who seems for fall head over heels for Redfords Bill Bryson. She does well but the whole concept of adding such talent to play such an oddly scripted character is mind-boggling. Not to say that it is a little unbelievable that women along the trail seem to throw themselves at Bryson and Katz.
It looks like I am tearing A Walk in the Woods to pieces, but the big reason is that I really wanted to like this film much more than I did. As a big fan of Bill Bryson's books and his unusual dry wit, I really expected this to be a no brainer. But the result here is a film with so much potential, that falls disappointingly short.
Overall, A Walk in the Woods is an entertaining movie that is relatively funny. Especially, Nick Nolte and the supporting cast. It is worth a watch for an odd couple type of story in the wilderness. But if you are looking for a deeper wilderness adventure story I would look elsewhere.