Redford and Nolte’s “Walk In The Woods” Doesn’t Hike It

By Scott Kurland
Film: A Walk In The Woods
Starring: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Kristen Schaal, Nick Offerman, and Mary Steenburgen
Rated R
Director: Ken Kwapis

Obtaining the film rights to a book or memoir is like pulling teeth. Sometimes the author wants to maintain artistic integrity, and if that be the case they will downright refuse any film rights. Other times the rights are easily obtained but a studio’s involvement is the deciding factor of whether it is made or not. This dance could go on for years preventing actors from staying on board of the project. In the case of this week’s film “A Walk In The Woods” Robert Redford obtained the rights in 1998 and envisioned his longtime friend and collaborator Paul Newman starring with him. However, a studio hold out prevented the film from being made. Newman got ill and sadly passed away in 2008. After years of labor and hard work, “A Walk In The Woods” finally comes to the big screen. Let’s find out if it is any good shall we?

Robert Redford stars as real life author Bill Bryson, who is caught at a crossroads. He hasn’t written a book in years, life is becoming very boring, and he’s stuck in a rut. After attending a funeral for a close friend, Bryson get’s the crazy idea to hike the Appalachian trail. His wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) does not support this idea. Catherine forces Bill to find someone to travel with him. The only person Bryson can get is his old “friend” Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte); with whom he has lost contact with. Katz and Bryson take on the trail together fighting bears, snow, and an annoying hiker named Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal). Will they reconnect or give up on their little “Walk in the Woods”?

“A Walk In The Woods” could have been a great film is Newman was cast in the late 90s early 2000s. However, finding a good foil to Redford is very hard. I would have accepted Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, even Morgan Freeman. Honestly, anyone except Nolte. Nolte is a good actor, but I don’t believe Redford’s Bryson would have been friends with Nolte’s Katz. Newman and Redford they went. Nolte and Tom Waits they mesh, granted you wouldn’t be able to understand either of them. Redford and Nolte as individual performances are really good. Yet, when they’re together on screen they lack chemistry with one another. I didn’t believe they were truly ever friends or would eventually reconnect.

The main problem with “A Walk In The Woods” is the direction. “A Walk In The Woods” should be an independent film, based solely around a conversation and characters enter their lives. However director Ken Kwapis’ direction is more like a comedy. The characters talk, something stupid happens, they talk more, pointless character enters the picture. The plot isn’t advanced this way. Originally Richard Linklater was chosen to direct this film, and he would have knocked it out of the park. His vision would have added the indie grit needed. Redford as producer picked Kwapis instead and we get a film from the man who gave us “Big Miracle” and “He's Just Not That Into You.” Kwapis was chosen merely on the fact most of his movies were based on books. That doesn’t mean you can make all films that were based upon a book. You don’t become the Tim Burton of page to screen because you know how to shoot Drew Barrymore correctly. A book so well written deserved an accomplished director. Kwapis doesn’t fit that bill.

“A Walk In The Woods” had potential to be a real winner, but fails horribly at every turn. Redford and Thompson give solid performance. Nolte is inaudible and sound like he has a mouth full of gravel. I am a fan of Bill Bryson and have enjoyed his novels from time to time. I always had a soft spot for “A Walk In The Woods”, but somehow the film failed to capture the beauty of nature and reconnection like the novel did.

I’ve been saying this sentence a lot lately in my reviews, this isn’t a bad film; it’s also not a good film either. “A Walk In The Woods” feels like a failed attempt to make this generation’s “My Dinner With Andre”; then it tries to be “Planes, Trains, & Automobiles”. What it really is, is “Gone Fishin’” starring Danny Glover and Joe Pesci. You can do yourself a favor and skip “A Walk In The Woods”.

scott kurlandComment