At the start of A Walk in the Woods, travel writer Bill Bryson is being interviewed on a Boston morning TV show. The host is a silly man, sure, over-the-top in his pomposity and self-importance, but he sure does drive home his point as he grills his guy living comfortably with his family in New Hampshire attempting to hawk a boxed set of collections of books he wrote while living in England two decades ago. What have you done for me lately, old man?
Another uncomfortable realization kicks in when he returns to face another funeral and again doesn’t come up with the right words out with friends.
Robert Redford and Emma Thompson dance well together as Bill and his taken-here-from-London wife Catherine. But still something in his soul needs stirring. So he hatches a plan to walk the Appalachian trail after seeing a sign in their backyard extolling its miles up and town. Protective she won’t let him go alone. The only taker is a cranky honk of a voice on the other end of the phone, a person so far from the past he wasn’t even on the list of invitees but heard about the trip second-hand. OK, Bryson lets go of his resolve. Katz it is. Stephen Katz, played by the expansive, wheezing, sloppy Nick Nolte, arrives by plane and stays one night at their house, shares a three-generation family meal at the table and tells stories. Catherine remembers how they did not end well those decades ago in Europe and is even more reluctant.
Redford is the man who wanted to make this movie for a long time, because he read the actual book of this journey written by the real Bill Bryson. Alas, when they set off to walk America’s storied trail, those two men were 44 years old. Redford is 79. Nolte is 74. So the film directed by Ken Kwapis from a screenplay written by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman reflects this. Very much.
There’s comedy to be had in those two watching school kids zipping up the mountain past them, and fit and concerned twentysomethings offering help and they being too stubborn to accept.
Katz is way fat and way slow. Bryson is very slim and very determined.
They come upon a single woman hiking the trail, the shrill and oddball Mary Ellen, and she chirps her way out of their hearts in one great acting turn by Kristen Schaal. A kindly motel/restaurant owner played to the hilt by Mary Steenburgen and a randy clothes launderer portrayed with extra sauce by Susan McPhail show up to amuse them later.
Katz is dodging his past and living for the moment. Bryson loves what he’s accomplished and relishes charting what’s led up to the present state, his and the world’s.
But when two bears show up in camp one night and they join forces in fear and reaction, and Bryson stumbles and Katz tries to steady him only for both of them to end up in a worse pickle, their discussions result in two polars nudging closer to center. Nolte makes Katz seem like the fuller man. Redford never gets too excited about much.
The Trail is always beautiful.
The action moseys along.
A crowd that mostly filled the upper level in the stadium seating at the Regal Cinemas’ theater in Syracuse’s mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA for a Saturday late matinée yucked, and filed out appreciatively after the happy ending.
Lots of silver and hair-going in this year of Hollywood rediscovering the north-of-50 crowd, and they liked it the easy way.
What’s your favorite Robert Redford film, and why? What’s your favorite Nick Nolte film, and why? What’s your favorite buddy film, and why?