Despite veteran actors, “A Walk in the Woods” disappoints reviewer

by Christopher Sanchez

sanchezch@mnstate.edu

Fulfillment is something many people strive for in life. In “A Walk in the Woods,” Robert Redford plays middle-aged author Bill Bryson, who, being the environmentalist he is, strives to fulfill his life by hiking the rigorous 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia.

Bryson gets a lot of pushback for his decision to do this, particularly from his wife (Emma Thompson, splendid). This is not because Bryson is not capable, (Redford is in astonishing good shape for someone who in real life just turned 79) but because he’s an aging man who hasn’t been in the wilderness for 30 years.  Mrs. Bryson eventually gives in to the idea, but only if someone else tags along. After trying to get in contact with many old pals, Bryson ends up having to settle for an estranged friend, which sets up the film for a typical reunion/road trip plot.

The two meander through the trails and try to reconnect their once-close friendship, which fell apart for reasons that the film fails to dig into. The film is supposed be about aging men trying to find themselves and rediscovering their friendship. It should be deep and meaningful, but the conversations between the men aren’t quite that. Sure, we get kernels of heart to heart conversation, but the film doesn’t explain why these two had a falling out or why they even know each other.

You can’t fault the two leads though; Redford and his counterpart, Nick Nolte, both do their best to inject life into their roles, and because of this, they have sweet moments.

The history of the film is intriguing itself, as it is based on the 1998 memoir from the real Bill Bryson himself. Redford got the rights from the material back in 2005 and had plans to bring it onto the big screen with Paul Newman playing Bryson’s estranged friend.

I can’t help but think the film would have benefitted with Newman in the role. Knowing of Redford and Newman’s iconic chemistry going way back to the days of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting”, “A Walk in the Woods” could’ve been a more personal and effective journey than the one we recieved here. Given the veteran actors and interesting history, this reviewer entered the theater with high expectations, but unfortunately it was a disappointment.

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