A Walk In The Woods

Movie:  A Walk In The Woods

Rating:  4 1/2 Stars (Out Of 5)

Review:   Those of us who have reached the half century mark know a little something about how fleeting time can be.  Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) has accomplished a lot in his life, having written a number of books and received accolades and awards for his work.  But one day he accidentally strolls in his back yard and realizes it runs into a section of the Appalachian Trail.  Bryson’s imagination is quickly fired up that this is just the challenge he needs to get out of his personal doldrums, and he makes plans to begin the 2, 118 mile journey.  His wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) is mortified, and presents strenuous arguments to her husband that he is too old and too out of shape to hike the trail, and underestimating the dangers of such an undertaking.  Finally, when all else fails, she insists he has to have a companion if he is to go forward with his reckless plan.

Enter Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte).  He and Bill have been out of touch for 30 years, but used to be young rams who shared adventures tramping around Europe back in the day.   Bill needs a companion to start this monumental hike, so here is Katz stepping off the plane to fill the bill.  Except Stephen looks like he may have trouble walking from the plane into the terminal; the years have taken their toll.  Nevertheless, Stephen is adamant that he can do the hike, and Bill is determined to make a go of it, so the two amigos arrive at the beginning of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, brimming with optimism about the journey ahead.

This is a delightful movie on several levels.  It is very character driven, with two accomplished actors who know their craft.  This could have been an average buddy movie with lesser actors, but even in their 70s Redford and Nolte have enough charisma to command your attention on the screen.  These characters could be seen as dealing with mid-life crises, except they passed the midway point a while back.  Still, there are scenes with some real poignancy about dealing with loss, regrets, temptation, and satisfaction with what they do have in their lives.  In addition without any schmaltz, there is an unspoken recognition between two hetero men that they have reclaimed a special friendship that had been neglected for too many years.  Plenty of physical humor and wisecracks to call this a comedy, but also on some level a film that makes you feel good about two old guys who genuinely like each other.

Dialogue Nuggets:  Bill – “Writers don’t retire.  They drink themselves to death or blow their brains out.”

Catherine to Bill – “It’s not that I think you’re old.  You are too old!”

Bill – “Nothing for you to worry about.  Catherine – “No, nothing except my husband surely getting maimed or killed!”

Stephen – “I spent half my life getting drunk and chasing pussy.  The other half I just wasted.”

Stephen, wheezing on the Appalachian Trail – “What the hell happened to down?  It can’t be uphill all the way to Maine!”

Stephen – “There are only two guys on the planet who would go to bed with her, and we’re in the same damn town.”

Bill – “You still owe me six hundred bucks.”  Stephen – “You know I’m good for it.”

Actors To Watch:  You have a lot of star power in this movie, with Robert Redford, Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen all having won academy awards.  But it’s Nick Nolte, three time academy award nominee, who steals most scenes with his whiskey ravaged voice and stumble-bum look about him.

Huh?  What the….:  Two young hikers come upon Bill and Stephen early on the Trail, and power walk past the two old duffers.  Yet, much later, the two young dudes come upon them again!  What did they do, finish walking the Trail and decide to do it again?

Interesting Casting Note:  Redford starting planning to make this film in 2005, and was talking to his pal Paul Newman to take the part of Stephen Katz.  Too bad; that would have been a treat for film fans….

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